The Sea-Watch 4 rescue ship, now carrying 463 people, still waits to be assigned a port as a storm approaches
EUROPEAN maritime authorities have refused to come to the aid of over 400 people travelling across the Mediterranean in an overcrowded boat, activists warned today.
The refugee distress hotline organisation Alarm Phone first alerted the Maritime Coordination Centres (MRCC) Italy and Malta about 430 people in a sinking boat in international waters on Wednesday morning.
“MRCC Rome has informed us that they [are] not the ‘competent authority’ in this case, while RCC Malta simply hangs up the phone when we try to relay information on the case,” Alarm Phone said.
“The boat is disintegrating, and they cannot hold out much longer. Moreover, they report that several people have already died. There are over one hundred people below deck – in case of a shipwreck, they would be trapped inside the vessel.”
The boat reached Malta’s search-and-rescue zone around 11pm last night. Still, no European assets have yet been sent to their position.
The Libyan Coastguard — which despite being trained, equipped and supported by the EU is frequently spotted intercepting refugees without using life vests and behaving erratically — would be unable to handle such a large number of people safely, Alarm Phone said.
“It is clear that neither the Libyan coastguards nor the Tunisian forces can adequately deal with this distress situation.
“Indeed, we fear that their involvement might prompt panic on board as the people do not want to return to a place of unsafety [sic], but seek protection in Europe,” the group said.
“Moreover, the Tunisian authorities have told us on the phone at 00:44 [CET] in the night that it would not be possible to carry out a rescue operation involving over 400 people. This morning, the Tunisian coastguard sent out two assets but according to people on board, they are not intervening.”
Later this afternoon, Alarm Phone posted an update, saying: “24 hours after our first alert, the Tunisian navy told us that they just sent four assets to the 430 people in distress and that a rescue operation is ongoing.
“The boat is in an area under Malta responsibility and the people should be taken to Europe. Tunisia is not safe for migrants.”
The group’s last update, posted right before The Civil Fleet published this story, said: “We lost contact [with] the 430 people some hours ago.
“According to authorities, they are being rescued by the Tunisian coastguard. It remains unclear if people are well and where they are now.
“We demand answers for the many friends and relatives who are asking about their loved ones!”
Meanwhile, the rescue ship Sea-Watch 4 still remains without a port to take the remaining 463 of the more than 480 people her crew saved from the Mediterranean last week.
The Italian coastguards evacuated 12 people — including eight heavily pregnant women — from the ship yesterday evening and took them to shore for medical treatment.
The authorities, for whatever reason, have left the rest to stay on board the ship as the weather worsens.
“A storm is coming, the situation on the Sea-Watch4 is critical,” the ship’s operators Sea-Watch said today.
“Many of the 463 rescued people on board have already been at sea for more than a week. They are exposed to rain and wind on the decks.
“They need protection and have the right to disembark in a port of safety! Now!”
Update: November 26
According to Alarm Phone, it turns out that there were in fact 487 people on board the boat yesterday, not 430 as initially believed.
The activists were told late last night that by Tunisian authorities that the people were rescued and that there were no fatalities.
“We hope this is true,” Alarm Phone said last night. “[We] are relieved this did not end in a mass shipwreck as European authorities shamefully ignored their distress.”
The organisation was told today that the rescued had been taken to Ben Guerdane, near Tunisia’s border with Libya.
Alarm Phone said: “Tunisia is not a safe country and people are at risk of pushback!”
Also, Sea-Watch announced this morning that its rescue ship, the Sea-Watch 4, had finally been granted a port.
“After we were forced to declare a state of necessity yesterday, the authorities finally fulfilled their duty and assigned us a port for disembarkation: Augusta.
“Our 461 remaining guests must now be allowed to go ashore without further delay!”