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Civilian rescuers respond to NGO ship after Malta ignores its state of emergency

UN calls on Europe to act after the authorities leave the Louise Michel and the 130 newly rescued people to the fates

THE civil refugee rescue fleet spring into action today after the Maltese authorities refused to respond to an NGO ship’s state of emergency.

The Louise Michel — a former naval ship turned lifeboat operated by a team of seasoned rescuers and funded by British artist Banksy — had already been carrying 89 refugees since Thursday when it was alerted to another distress case yesterday evening by the NGO reconnaissance plane Moonbird.

“Alert! Louise Michel [has] assisted another 130 people – among them many women and children – and nobody is helping!,” the rescuers tweeted on late on Friday night.

“We are reaching a state of emergency. We need immediate assistance,” they said, calling on the Italian coastguard and Malta’s armed forces for help. “We are safeguarding 219 people with a crew of 10. Act EU, now!”

“There is already one dead person on the boat. The others have fuel burns, they have been at sea for days and now they are being left alone in an EU search-and-rescue zone. Don’t let it become a body count. Do your job. Rescue them”

The crew waited for six hours before it had to bring as many refugees on board as they could.

“A crew of 10 is now on board a 30 [meter] ship with 219 survivors. 33 are still on a life raft and 1 deceased person in a body bag.”

The Sea Watch 4 — currently carrying 201 rescued people and waiting for Europe to provide it with a place to disembark them — announced on Twitter this morning that it was on its way to help.

“As the Louise Michel is left unable to manoeuvre in the middle of another dramatic rescue operation, the SeaWatch4 – still over 4 hours away – has changed course and set sail to assist. Why? Because European authorities are denying assistance once again.

“Shame on the EU!”

The Italian NGO Mediterranea: Saving Humans also sent the Mare Jonio to the ship’s aid this afternoon.

“It will be a journey of many hours and we hope that the Italian or Maltese military decide to intervene sooner,” the charity wrote on Twitter.

“The Louise Michel … would be reachable in less than 2 hours from Lampedusa and in less than 3 from Valletta” – Malta’s capital city.

“The situation is dramatic, one person has died and the crew cannot guarantee assistance to everyone. There are many women and children, many people have serious medical problems.

“Rescuing these people is a matter of life or death. And once again European civil society, starting with the Mediterranean and the Ionian Sea, will play its part.”

Around 5pm this evening, the Louise Michel announced that the Italian coastguard had evacuated 49 of the most vulnerable people with them as well as the deceased person.

The Sea Watch 4 arrived on scene after and provided assistance to the refugees and the Louise Michel’s crew.

The United Nation’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) called for the immediate disembarkation of the refugees onboard the Sea Watch 4, the Louise Michel and the 27 others stuck off Malta on a merchant ship.

“The humanitarian imperative of saving lives should not be penalised or stigmatised, especially in the absence of dedicated state-led efforts,” the UN agencies said.

“The lack of agreement on a regional disembarkation mechanism, long called for by UNHCR and IOM, is not an excuse to deny vulnerable people a port of safety and the assistance they need, as required under international law.

“Stalled discussion around such a proposal should urgently be revived, especially amid repeated stand-offs delaying disembarkation. Clarity and predictability are in the immediate and long-term interest of all.

“It is crucial that other EU member states provide more support to countries at the forefront of receiving sea arrivals in the Mediterranean.

“UNHCR and IOM are deeply concerned about the continued absence of dedicated EU-led search and rescue capacity in the Central Mediterranean. With relatively fewer NGO vessels compared to previous years, the gap is being increasingly filled by commercial vessels.

“It is vital that they are permitted to disembark rescued passengers promptly, as without such timely processes, shipmasters of commercial vessels may be deterred from attending to distress calls for fear of being stranded at sea for weeks on end.”

Published by The Civil Fleet

A news blog and podcast focused on the activist-led refugee rescue and support missions across Fortress Europe

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