Time : A 253-feet long, 2,000-ton boat makes for an ungainly political football, especially when it is carrying some 629 desperate migrants and is staffed by a crew of angry humanitarian workers.

But since Saturday, when the MV Aquarius, a search-and-rescue vessel operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and European NGO SOS Méditerranée, came to the aid of several dinghy-loads of imperiled migrants who had set off from the Libyan coast for Europe, the boat has become a symbol of the continent’s most intractable crisis.

That wouldn’t be the plight of the migrants, which is indeed dire, but rather the inability of the European Union to tackle an issue that threatens to tear the bloc apart: what to do about the migrants and refugees who are willing to risk everything, even their lives, to reach European shores.

Aryn Baker writes for TIME