The Civil Fleet

Maltese and Italian coastguards fail to assist NGO rescuers who asked for their help


Aita Mari saves the lives of more people than it can legally bring on board but the authorities ignored their plight

AN NGO refugee rescue ship in the central Mediterranean waited hours today for help from the Maltese and Italian coastguards that never came after the vessel saved the lives of 148 people, 28 more than it is legally allowed to carry.

The Basque charity Humanitarian Maritime Rescue (SMH) announced this morning that its rescue ship, Aita Mari, had located 102 people — including a seven-month-old baby and two pregnant women — travelling in a wooden boat within Malta’s search-and-rescue zone (SAR).

Rescued survivors on board one of the Aita Mari’s Rhibs [Photo: Unai Beroiz / SMH]

“The rescue ship will now wait for the European authorities to assign, as required by law, the closest safe port,” SMH said after the first rescue today.

“Because of our location (34°58.02’N, 12°29.154’E) this should be [Malta’s responsibility], but the island has always refused to allow landings.”

Later in the afternoon the Aita Mari came across a second boat, this one carrying 46 people.

However, SMH said that it could not bring the people on board because, the Aita Mari can only legally carry 120 passengers.

An SMH rescuer attends to people onboard a wooden boat [Photo: SMH]

“We have not been able to embark these 46 castaways yet,” SMH said. “However, life vests have been distributed and the stability of this boat is guaranteed while [we wait for] a solution [to be] found.

“We have asked Malta and Italy for help through their coastguards. Likewise, the other commercial ships in the area have been notified.”

Neither the Italian or Maltese authorities answered the Aita Mari’s request for help today, an SMH spokesperson told The Civil Fleet this afternoon. Eventually, the 46 decided they didn’t want to wait any longer and continued their journey toward Europe with the life jackets, food and water provided by SMH.

SMH Media volunteer Daniel Rivas told The Civil Fleet that the crew asked the Maltese and Italian authorities to allow them to go over their legal capacity so that they could bring everyone on board. But they received no answer.

“While we were waiting” Mr Rivas said, “the 46 restarted their engine and took the decision to resume their trip to Lampedusa.

“For the time being, we have requested both Malta and Italy to provide us with safe port, but it has been denied. So we’re now waiting for further instructions.”

Update 18:45

Meanwhile the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) warned that 340 people were intercepted and returned to war-torn Libya by the EU-supported Libyan Coastguard.

The agency warned that 2,500 people have been returned to the country so far this year and that most of them were taken to detention.

German refugee rescue NGO Sea Watch said the crew of its reconnaissance plane Moonbird spotted six boats adrift in the Mediterranean today.

“Our crew spotted three wooden boats in the Maltese SAR area (one later assisted by Aita Mari) and one in the Libyan SAR area,” Sea Watch tweeted this afternoon.

“Also sighted a pushback of a rubber dinghy and a wooden boat set on fire.”