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Alarm Phone and MSF save 71 refugees from sinking rubber boat

The Geo Barents rescues over 360 people having reached the Libyan SAR zone on Friday

ACTIVISTS worked together today to save the lives of over 70 refugees from a deflating rubber boat in rough central Mediterranean waters.

The distress hotline organisation Alarm Phone last night informed the Maltese, Italian and Libyan authorities of a rubber boat carrying what was later confirmed to be 71 people near Malta‘s search-and-rescue (SAR) zone.

“The boat is deflating and water is entering,” Alarm Phone warned this morning. “We fear the worst, unless [the] authorities, who were informed 11 hours ago, act immediately.”

Around midday (UK time), Alarm Phone announced that it had lost contact with the boat.

“The merchant vessel Hafnia Malacca, who approached the boat to assist them, reports a possible push back from Malta SAR. Stop these crimes at sea! No illegal returns to Libya!”

Meanwhile, the Geo Barents, the rescue ship operated by international medical charity Doctors Without Boarders (MSF), was close by.

The ship was carrying 296 people this morning, having carried out multiple rescues in the Libyan SAR zone since Friday.

In one of four operations carried out yesterday, the crew saved the lives of 95 people who were about to be intercepted by the EU-supported Libyan coastguard.

“We intervened before these people were forced to return to violence, abuse and exploitation in Libya,” MSF said.

The Geo Barents reached the sinking rubber boat this afternoon.

“[The] weather conditions were extremely harsh with three-meter waves and 25 knots winds,” MSF said of today’s operation, “but we managed to rescue all 71 people on board.”

However, the fate of another boat that was well within Malta’s SAR zone this morning remains unknown.

“We’re in contact with 68 people, including many children, in distress fleeing from Libya,” Alarm Phone posted on social media today.

“[The] authorities were alerted 15 hours ago! They have engine problems and face strong winds and rough seas.

“We demand [the] European authorities respect the law and fulfill their responsibility.”

A charted plane operated by the European Border and Coastguard Agency, Frontex, was later spotted on a flight-tracking website flying in a zigzag search pattern near to the boat’s last know coordinates.

“The 68 people in distress are exhausted and adrift in high waves,” Alarm Phone warned.

“They see an airplane above them, which we identify as a Frontex plane. The people on board ask why Europe just watches from above but doesn’t rescue them for over a day now.”

The group lost contact with the 68 this afternoon.

“Where are they? Two hours ago we lost contact to the 68 people in distress. They were drifting just 14 nautical miles south of [the] Italian SAR zone.

“Frontex monitored the boat from the air for five hours, but there is no indication that a rescue operation was launched.”

Update: October 28

The Geo Barents eventually rescued 367 people in total. Last night, her crew disembarked all of them in Palermo on the Italian island of Sicily.

MSF said: “We are so relieved that all the survivors came ashore in a timely manner, and grateful for the warm welcome in Sicily.”

Top image shows the Geo Barents’ crew approaching a rubber boat carrying 95 people [Pic: ©Filippo Taddei/MSF]

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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