Meanwhile, two rescue ships forced to disembark rescued in ports hundreds of miles away
AT LEAST 73 people have been reported missing and presumed dead following a shipwreck off the Libyan coast, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) announced today, as Italy‘s parliament made it harder for rescue ships to save lives.
“The boat, carrying around 80 people, reportedly departed from Qasr Alkayar on February 14 heading to Europe,” the IOM said today.
“Seven survivors who made it back to shore in extremely dire conditions are currently in the hospital.
“So far 11 bodies have been retrieved by the Libyan Red Crescent and the local police.”
At least 34 people have died and 32 have gone missing while attempting to flee Libya across the Mediterranean so far this year, the IOM estimated last week. At least 1,965 people have been forcibly intercepted and returned to the war-torn country.
Meanwhile, the Italian Parliament voted into law today a decree issued by the far-right government last month that placed new restrictions on non-governmental search-and-rescue (SAR) ships operating in the central Mediterranean.
The new law requires NGO ships to sail directly to Italy following each rescue operation, preventing them from searching for more refugee boats stranded at sea.
Since the Italian government issued the decree in January, it has ordered rescue ships to disembark the survivors in ports hundreds of miles away, often in northern Italy, keeping them far from the SAR zone for weeks.
There are currently two rescue ships being subjected to this: SOS Humanity’s Ocean Viking and Doctors Without Borders’ (MSF) Geo Barents.
The Ocean Viking was ordered to travel to Ravenna, northern Italy, yesterday after it saved the lives of 84 people, including 58 unaccompanied children, in the morning.
SOS Mediterranee said yesterday that it will take four days for the Ocean Viking to reach Ravenna, and will take “a critical toll on survivors’ physical and mental health after all the suffering endured at sea and in Libya.”
The organisation said Italy’s new law will cause “a fatal reduction of rescue capacity in the Mediterranean.”
“[The] 84 survivors on the Ocean Viking are the first paying the costly prize of assigned distant ports, worsening their fragile condition. Coastal states must act to protect life at sea, not with measures that put it at greater risk.”
The Geo Barents saved the lives of 48 people, including 9 children, from a wooden boat in distress in international waters near Libya on Monday (February 13).
The Italian authorities ordered the crew to take the rescued to Ancona, northeast Italy.
“Despite the illegitimacy of this [order], we are now obliged to proceed and to sail for almost four days to reach the port of Ancona,” the Geo Barent’s SAR team leader Riccardo Gatti said today in a video shared by MSF.
“Again international law and international conventions are being violated by Italy, a European Union member state.
“There are closer, more suitable ports that we can reach faster.
“This is not taking care of the well-being and the needs of the survivors that we have on board.”
SOS Humanity‘s advocacy officer Mirka Schaefer said today that the new Italian law would lead to further deaths on the world’s deadliest migration route.
“The new law violates international and European law,” she said.
“We therefore call on the EU Commission, as the guardian of the law, to take action against these breaches of law by an EU member state!”
Amnesty International’s Migration Researcher, Matteo de Bellis, said: “These measures are clearly designed to hinder NGOs undertaking life-saving search-and-rescue missions in the central Mediterranean.
“This is part of an effort to ensure that as many people as possible are instead intercepted by Libyan coastguards and returned to Libya where they face arbitrary detention and torture.
“This new legislation — in combination with the ‘distant ports’ practice, requiring NGO ships to disembark rescued people in ports a long way from where rescues are typically carried out — risks resulting in more deaths at sea.
“It will inevitably lead to increased suffering for shipwreck survivors, and in further criminalisation of the legitimate work of human rights defenders.”
Top image shows the Geo Barent’s crew rescuing people from a wood boat in the central Mediterranean on Monday [Pic: MSF]