Malta abandons 80 people in distress in its search-and-rescue area

The island nation orders merchant vessel not to help them. Meanwhile, over 700 rescued refugees on two NGO ships wait for land

MALTA has abandoned about 60 to 80 people stranded within in its Mediterranean search-and-rescue (SAR) area today and ordered a merchant vessel not to help them, activists have warned.

Alarm Phone, an activist network that runs an emergency hotline for people in distress at Europe’s borders, said this morning that it was contacted by someone on the boat on Tuesday.

“During the night, we were contacted by a boat in distress that left Lebanon [heading] to Italy with [about] 57 people,” Alarm Phone said on social media, adding that the boat was broken and drifting.

“[Armed Forces Malta] isn’t reacting to their SOS calls, even [though] it is their duty. Rescue now!

The international medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) also called on the island nation to act as soon as possible.

“There are many merchant vessels in the area that can perform the rescue,” the organisation said this morning.

“They must fulfill their obligations of saving the lives of people in distress at sea. The 80 children, women and men on board of this boat in distress cannot wait any longer.”

According to Alarm Phone’s latest update this evening, a merchant ship, the Bruce, received orders from Malta’s rescue coordination centre to “assist the 80 people in distress with water and food.

“After waiting for [two to three hours] they were ordered to leave and continued their route, leaving the people behind.”

Today’s emergency is far from the only time in which Malta has either failed, refused, or responded too slowly to non-Europeans in distress within its SAR zone.

Activists and NGOs have repeatedly accused it of doing so since the Covid pandemic hit Europe in March 2020. It has also been accused on several occasions of assisting the Libyan coastguards to pull people back to the war-torn country.

Activists with German rescue organisation Sea-Watch witnessed another such case from their reconnaissance plane Seabird this week.

“A Maltese military vessel ignored our Mayday call,” Sea-Watch said on social media yesterday about Monday’s incident. “Instead, the so-called Libyan coastguard came forward.

“[The] authorities ignored our Mayday call for over three hours, putting the people on the boat at risk of a) being taken to Libya and imprisoned, tortured, and abused or b) dying in the open sea.

“Malta even instructed a merchant ship that had already changed course to help the boat in distress NOT to do so.

“Fortunately, the [MSF’s rescue ship] Geo Barents managed to get the people on board in time. Malta risks human lives right off its coast, and the EU accepts it.”

Alarm Phone was contacted by another boat that had left from Lebanon on Tuesday. This one was carrying about 65 people and was in distress near the Greek island of Rhodes.

In a tweet this morning, the organisation said: “The people told us that water was entering the boat, and they could not move further due to rocks near the shore.

“They started three days ago in Lebanon. [The Greek coastguard] was informed but refused to give any update, and said they are ‘still investigating’.

An Alarm Phone update this afternoon read: “Despite having left from Lebanon, [the Greek coastguard] pushed these people seeking asylum in Europe to Turkey.

“The Turkish coastguard picked up a boat with 65 people in this area yesterday and confirmed it was the boat we had been alerted to. Europe, end your border crimes.”

Meanwhile, the Geo Barents is currently carrying 267 people, including at least 61 minors, rescued in seven operations since Sunday.

“Reminder: whatever the country of origin, age and gender,” MSF posted on social media above a picture of one of the rescued, “everyone in a boat in distress must be rescued and have access to medical care.

“These people are more than numbers and simply do not deserve to drown.”

Another activist-run rescue ship, the Ocean Viking, has 460 survivors on board, rescued by her crew in several operations since last Thursday.

The ship’s medical team leader Rebecca said in a video posted on Tuesday that the medical team was “totally overwhelmed trying to meet the health needs of the 460 survivors that we currently have onboard.”

“We’ve already had to medically evacuate several persons for additional help on land.

“All of these survivors need to be disembarked so they can have further health care away from the heat and the sun that is compromising their health even further.”


Top image shows people aboard a boat in the central Mediterranean before they were brought onboard the Geo Barents on Monday [Pic: MSF]

Published by Ben Cowles

Is a journalist and podcaster

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