Meanwhile, the Ocean Viking is finally allowed to disembark some of the 296 people saved by her crew 11 days ago
THE EUROPEAN authorities failed once again to respond to a refugee boat in distress in the central Mediterranean today, leaving activists rescuers to save the lives of over 80 people within Malta‘s search-and-rescue (SAR) zone.
Alarm Phone, an activist network operating a distress hotline for people at sea, alerted the authorities to the boat in Malta’s SAR zone on Sunday evening. But no rescue was launched.
Fortunately, the Nadir, a sailing ship on a human-rights monitoring mission in the central Mediterranean, did respond to Alarm Phone’s alert.
The Nadir’s operators, ResQship, said the crew discovered 85 people in a rubber boat shortly after midnight this morning.
“The fleeing people had started from Zuwara [in Libya] the night before and were drifting in Malta’s SAR zone, unable to manoeuvre,” ResQship said this afternoon.
“Water has already leaked into the boat, and it had started to list. Despite the threatening situation, the people remained calm and were very cooperative.”
The Nadir handed out life jackets to the travellers and soon after a larger, new NGO rescue ship arrived, the Aurora — which was previously part of Britain’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) fleet, now operated by rescue organisation Sea-Watch.
Both crews transferred the survivors to the Aurora, which Sea-Watch said this afternoon is now heading north and calling on the Italian authorities for a safe port to disembark them.
“Once again, it is civil society that rescues where Europe fails,” the Aurora’s head of mission Jasmine Iozzelli said today.
“Together with Alarm Phone and ResQship, we successfully brought more than 80 people from distress at sea safely onboard the Aurora. They all have a right to live in safety.
“After being abandoned by European authorities on the open sea, this is the least they’re entitled to.”
The Italian and Maltese authorities were absent from the rescue, but a drone operated by the European Border and Coastguard Agency, Frontex, was circling above, the organisations said.
Frontex has repeatedly been accused of ignoring activist rescue ships — the only dedicated SAR vessels operating in the central Mediterranean since 2019 — and with helping the Libyan coastguards send people back to its condemned migrant detention centres.
“It is highly cynical that in the face of a life-threatening situation, once again there was no response or help from the relevant European authorities,” Nadir crew member Carla Kneuper said.
“Only a Frontex drone was sent to watch people in imminent danger of drowning.”
Meanwhile, the Ocean Viking was finally allowed to disembark some of the 294 people her crew rescued in the Mediterranean since May 19.
Tragedy almost struck the ship yesterday, on what turned out to be the 10th and final day of a stand-off with the Italian authorities.
“One of the survivors on Ocean Viking jumped off the ship out of exhaustion and despair,” operators SOS Mediterranee said yesterday. “He was recovered by [our] team.
“The unjustified delay to assign a place of safety to those rescued from imminent danger at sea is taking a dangerous toll on them. They must disembark now.”
Hours before, an 8-month pregnant woman and her husband were emergency evacuated from the ship.
Then, last night, the crew finally received word that they could begin disembarking the survivors in Pozzallo, on the Italian island of Sicily.
“Intense emotions are felt tonight onboard,” SOS Medterranee said following th news.
“It is unacceptable that survivors of distress at sea are faced with such disregard for their rights.”
Update/Correction: May 31, 2022
Sea-Watch announced last night that the Aurora has disembarked the rescued in Lampedusa last night.
There was some confusion over the exact number of people rescued, but it now appears that there were 85 (and not 86) people rescued.
Top pic shows: The Aurora with over 80 people on board and life raft in tow in the central Mediterranean Sea [Pic: Leon Salner / ResQship]