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Over 1,000 refugees attempt to escape Libya by sea in 24 hours

Meanwhile the Ocean Viking carries over 230 rescued refugees and the Astral saves the lives of 45 others in Malta’s SAR zone

OVER 1,000 refugees attempted to flee Libya across the central Mediterranean between Thursday and this morning and still more rickety boats are leaving as the weather improves.

Most of the escapees, around 800, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) today, were intercepted by the EU-supported Libyan Coastguard.

An NGO refugee rescue ship, Ocean Viking, said it picked up 237 refugees in two separate missions on Thursday and around 180 more in two boats this morning.

Later this afternoon in Malta’s search-and-rescue (SAR) zone the Astral, another NGO rescue ship, found a group of 45 people who spent three days at sea on a flimsy inflatable boat.

The crew has handed out life jackets and masks and, as of the time this story was published, are waiting for instructions from the Italian and Maltese maritime authorities.

Earlier in the morning, the Astral’s crew found an empty boat believed to be the one carrying around 74 people that the activist network Alarm Phone was last in contact with on Thursday while it was inside Malta’s SAR zone.

The survivors, the Astral’s owners Open Arms said, had been rescued and transferred to the Italian island of Lampedusa at dawn.

The suffering of migrants in Libya and in the central Mediterranean is intolerable, IOM spokeswoman Safa Msehli told The Civil Fleet today.

“We have been calling on the European Union and the international community for a shift in approach to the situation in Libya for years,” she said.

“Without a concrete change, we fear that more death and suffering are an inevitability.

“Saving lives should be the guiding principle, hard-won international rights should be respected, and states’ responsibilities and obligations must be upheld.”

Moonbird, a refugee reconnaissance plane operated by German NGO Sea Watch, was monitoring events off the coast of Libya from the skies on both Thursday and today.

Sea Watch’s head of mission for the Moonbird Neeske Beckman said Thursday was “one of the busiest days that we have had in a long time, maybe even in years.”

“Moonbird found eight boats alone, with several hundred people on board and from our friends on board the Ocean Viking … we know that they also rescued two boats with over 200 people in a different area than where Moonbird patrolled.

“Unfortunately Moonbird also had to witness the so-called Libyan Coastguard intercepting two boats and [returning] several hundred people back to Libya.

“Of the other cases we have to assume that they’re still at sea, and we hope very much that they reach a safe place either of their own power or by rescue towards a safe place in Europe.”

UPDATE 18:30

Spanish NGO Open Arms just announced the 45 refugees have been transferred to an Italian Coastguard boat and are on their way to Lampedusa.

Top image of a boat carrying refugees off the coast of Libya as seen by the reconnaissance plane Moonbird Photo: Felix Weiss / Sea Watch

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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