Four-year-old girl dies after Greece and Malta failed to launch rescue three days after activists raised the alarm

‘A choice of non-assistance by responsible European authorities has produced suffering and death’

THE Greek and Maltese maritime authorities were blamed for the death of a four-year-old girl who died today — three days after activists alerted them to her boat in distress.

The girl was part of a group of around 60 people who set sail from Lebanon around August 25.

By September 4, someone aboard their boat had managed to contact the activist-run distress hotline organisation Alarm Phone.

The boat’s GPS signal showed the Alarm Phone activists that the people had reached the western edge of Malta’s search-and-rescue (SAR) zone, a portion of the central Mediterranean in which the island nation is legally responsible for coordinating rescues.

Alarm Phone’s activists alerted the Maltese, Greece and Italian authorities to the distress case, but no rescue was launched.

“[About] 60 people in distress who left from Lebanon 10 days ago need urgent assistance!,” Alarm Phone tweeted that day.

“The boat is leaking, [and] no food or water is left. They say a container ship is following them but so far no help arrived. They need rescue, not observers!”

The merchant ship, the activists said, was the STI Solace — an oil tanker registered in the Marshall Islands, according to ship vessel tracking websites.

By this point, at least one person had gone overboard.

“Ordered by [Armed Forced Malta],” Alarm Phone said later, “the ship STI Solace changed course around noon, and has been following the boat without helping.

“According to the people onboard, two children have died. We cannot confirm this information but are very worried. How long shall this suffering continue?”

The next day, another merchant ship — the Malta-flagged MV Uno — came near the boat’s last known coordinates. But it, too, left without intervening.

“These people are still at sea,” the activists posted on September 5. “And in the meantime drifted back into Greek waters. Several merchant vessels passed the boat in distress without helping them.

“[Greek coastguards] must now act immediately and start a rescue mission. Any delay could cost dozens of lives!”

No rescue came, despite two other container ships (the Panama-flagged MSC Nela and UK-flagged Ha Long Bay) passing close by.

On September 6, Alarm Phone posted the following: “Since yesterday evening, the relatives of people on the boat lost contact to the distressed.

“We keep alerting authorities, but they refuse to inform us if any rescue efforts have been undertaken. End this cruel non-assistance!”

Then this morning, Alarm Phone got word that the people had finally been rescued. A general cargo ship, the Antigua-Barbuda-flagged BBC Pearl, had come to their aid.

“A girl was flown by helicopter to a hospital but died before getting there,” the activists said.

“We are so deeply disgusted by yet another instance of non-assistance that ended deadly! All authorities were informed and could have easily averted this disaster.

“Merchant vessels nearby could have intervened and rescued.”

Greek media reported this morning that the girl was on the way to Chania hospital on the Greek island of Crete in a military helicopter with her mother, but said she died on route.

Fellow NGOs and rescuers reacted to the young girl’s death in horror.

Italian rescue organisation Mediterranea: Saving Humans said: “Once again, a choice of non-assistance by responsible European authorities has produced suffering and death.

“We have no more words to describe the disgust and anger in the face of the murderous policies of the European states on the borders.

“Enough, enough, enough!”

Mare Liberum, an activist group that ran a human rights monitoring mission in the Aegean Sea before the Greek and German governments forced it to stop, also reacted to the news.

“We are horrified that another young child was killed by EU’s isolation policy,” Mare Liberum said today in reference to the five-year-old girl who died on an islet in the river that separates Greece from Turkey last month.

“The group was in distress for ten days. The Maltese and Greek authorities were informed and refused to rescue. Their inaction is murder! Our thoughts are with the family.”

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said: “We are lost for words.”

Meanwhile, the Italian authorities have finally given permission for MSF’s rescue ship, the Geo Barents, to come ashore and disembark its 267 survivors.

“After seven long days of waiting, a place of safety has finally been assigned: Taranto,” MSF said on Twitter last night.

“While this is a relief for the survivors who could no longer bear to be stranded at sea, Taranto is [24 hours] away from the current location of the GeoBarents.

“Their journey is not over.”

SOS Humanity, an NGO that formerly worked with SOS Mediterranee, announced this morning that its new ship, Humanity 1, rescued 111 people in the central Mediterranean last night.

“Yesterday evening, our Humanity 1 crew rescued 111 people from a rubber boat in a joint effort [with] the Nadir of [ResQship] in the Libyan SAR zone,” SOS Humanity said.

“Among the rescued are two women, 86 unaccompanied minors, a toddler, and a baby. All are safe on board the Humanity 1 now.”


Top image shows people in water simulating a drowning [Pic: Tim Marshall / Creative Commons]

Published by Ben Cowles

Is a journalist and podcaster

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