500 others still stranded in Malta’s waters, Alarm Phone warns
CIVILIAN rescuers saved the lives of over 800 refugees in the central Mediterranean at the weekend with no help from the European authorities, who ignored their mayday calls and helped the Libyan Coastguards return hundreds of people to the war-torn country.
The Sea-Watch 3, a ship operated by German NGO Sea-Watch, is currently carrying about 263 people her crew rescued in several missions since last Friday.
Meanwhile, European charity SOS Mediterranee‘s ship, the Ocean Viking, is carrying about 555 people.
The weekend’s rescues were carried out in Malta and Libya‘s search-and-rescue (SAR) zones — where they are responsible for ensuring anyone in distress at sea is saved and brought to a safe place.
Libya — a country that has been in either a state of civil war and/or unrest since 2011 and from where countless people have attempted to escape across the Mediterranean since 2015 — is not considered a safe place by the United Nations, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Amnesty International, and many more.
Human rights abuses, such torture, rape and slave labour, have been widely reported in the country’s migrant detention centres — and not just those run by the militias but official government facilities as well.
Without the assistance of the Italian, Maltese or Libyan coastal authorities, nor the European Border and Coastguard Agency [Frontex], the Ocean Viking and Sea-Watch 3 have been reliant on fellow civilian-run refugee support organisations ResQship and Alarm Phone.
In one dramatic five-hour rescue carried out late on Saturday and into early Sunday morning, the Ocean Viking, Sea-Watch 3 and ResQship’s monitoring vessel Nadir worked together to save 400 people in one wooden boat from drowning.
Sea-Watch’s reconnaissance plane Seabird also located close to 18 overcrowded boats in distress at the weekend. Only the civilian rescuers responded to their mayday calls.
The Ocean Viking, Nadir and Seabird all witnessed Libyan Coastguard vessels either intercepting refugee boats or the immediate aftermath at the weekend also.
“Hundreds of people were intercepted by the so-called Libyan Coastguard,” wrote Sea-Watch on Saturday, describing what the Seabird’s crew saw from the skies.
“[The Libyan’s] ship was completely overloaded. The rescued people did not wear life vests… Another example of the inhumane actions of the so-called Libyan Coastguard.”
Sea-Watch detailed another case in which refugees were pushed back to Libya on Friday from inside Malta’s SAR zone. The Ocean Viking was just five nautical miles away from the refugees.
“Frontex was on scene for hours, but only informed the so-called Libyan Coastguard instead of our rescue ship. Our airplane crew was watching Frontex’s flight track and informed our ship.
“But when Seabird and the Sea-Watch 3 arrived on scene, the people were already taken on board the Libyan vessel, which later illegally returned them to Libya. Another pullback from a European SAR zone in cooperation of Frontex and so-called Libyan Coastguard.”
IOM spokeswoman Safa Msehli warned on Sunday that more than 1,000 people were intercepted by the EU-supported Libyan Caostguards in the past two days.
“They were taken to deplorable detention facilities where they face further abuse and exploitation,” she said.
With the heat and waves rising this afternoon, and the physical and mental health of the rescued people on board deteriorating, SOS Mediterranee said this afternoon that the Ocean Viking’s crew has asked the authorities to allow the ship to come ashore.
“Many [of the survivors] are suffering from seasickness today,” the ship’s medical team leader Francisca said.
“Some have fainted on our deck due to the heat and the ordeal they lived through. Some obtained injuries during the crossing, many suffer from body pain.
“We continue to assess, treat and monitor [our] patients, but all survivors need to disembark in a place of safety as soon as possible.”
Alarm Phone, whose activists had been in contact with the refugee boats this weekend, warned this afternoon that about 500 people in four boats in Malta’s SAR zone are still in danger.
“We have supported these hundreds of people for so many hours already,” Alarm Phone said in statement. “But still, we have yet to receive any information from EU authorities on their intention to carry out urgently needed rescue operations.
“Their delays could have already led to fatalities on the boats and we worry that with time passing, the likelihood of a disaster at sea is rising.
“The few civil rescue assets out as sea are doing what they can to rescue those in distress. However, after several intense days of rescues, they lack capacity and cannot take more people on board.
“[The] responsible state actors have decided to leave the people at risk of drowning and the civil rescuers to fend for themselves…
“We denunce this unbearable state of non-assistance at sea and all all relevant EU state and institutional authorities to prevent further loss in the Mediteranean graveyard. Act before it is too late.”
Unable to bring any more people aboard the ship, the Sea-Watch 3 remained close to the boats today while they waited for the authorities to arrive.
Sea-Watch posted an update on social media right before The Civil Fleet published this story.
It said: “The [Italian Coastguard has finally rescued some of the boats in distress, including those that Sea-Watch 3 was standing by for hours.
“The emergency in the central Med is not over, many people are still at sea.”
Top image shows around 400 people in and around a wooden boat in distress in the Mediterranean Sea who were saved in a joint operation by the Sea-Watch 3, Nadir and Ocean Viking [Pic: Adrian Pourviseh / Sea-Watch].