Italy orders rescue ships Life Support and Aita Mari to sail to distant ports after saving over 180 people
A LIBYAN vessel menaced a refugee rescue ship operating in the central Mediterranean earlier this week, an Italian charity revealed today.
Emergency made the announcement in a press release today after the crew of their rescue ship, the Life Support, saved the lives of 156 people in two rubber boats off the coast of Libya.
“On the evening of 14 February at 9pm,” Emergency said, “Life Support was approached by a fast vehicle which carried out risky and intimidating manoeuvres without identifying itself and without giving any type of communication, despite [the crew] repeatedly asking for radio contact.”
Emergency said it discovered yesterday that the vessel belonged to the SSA (Stability Support Apparatus), a body dependent on the Libyan Interior Ministry.
“We denounce this intimidation and the risky manoeuvres against us by a vehicle belonging to the Libyan security forces,” Emergency said.
“We confirm that our ship was more than 25 nautical miles from the Libyan coast, therefore at a safe distance from the territorial waters which end at 12 miles, as can be seen from the navigation devices on board.
“Our mandate is and remains to rescue lives at sea, a need also confirmed by the shipwrecks that have occurred in recent days.”
Shortly after 12am this morning, the crew spotted a wooden boat in distress carrying 46 people.
Life Support’s Head of Search and Rescue (SAR) Emanuele Nannini said the boat “spontaneously approached our ship.
“At first the castaways tried to get directly on board, a move that risked compromising their safety. The boat was overcrowded and therefore very unstable. They only calmed down when they saw the team activate.
“The rescued people told us that they had come across another boat like theirs at sea in precarious conditions and without any safety devices.”
The crew found the boat around 8:30am this morning.
The ship’s commander Domenico Pugliese said: “We spotted a gray dinghy that was taking on water. It was so overloaded that people sitting on the tubes had their legs in the water.
“The rescue team immediately proceeded to recover the castaways with an operation complicated by the extreme precariousness of the boat.”
The Italian authorities ordered the boat to take the rescued to Civitavecchia, north of Rome, hundreds of nautical miles away from the Life Support’s position after it made the rescue.
On Wednesday, another NGO rescue ship, the Aita Mari, was also ordered to sail to Civitavecchia, a two-day journey from where it was when it requested a safe port.
The Aita Mari — operated by Basque rescue organisation Humanitarian Maritime Rescue (SMH) — saved 31 people (including three pregnant women and 10 children, one just three months old) from an overcrowded wooden boat with no safety equipment in international waters off the coast of Libya yesterday afternoon.
SMH said the extra days at sea will “increase the suffering of the survivors who have been months, even years on migratory routes in which they have seen all kinds of human rights violated.
“The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS Convention 1974) states that in cases of rescue, the safe port closest to the route carried by the ship must be given, to minimise the time that the survivors remain in the ship.
“Something that Italy is systematically failing to comply with all rescue ships in recent weeks.”
The Ocean Viking and Geo Barents rescue ships are still sailing toward their assigned ports, and past many other closer ones, days after they rescued 84 and 48 people respectively.
The Ocean Viking’s operators, SOS Mediterranee, warned today that the ship is only halfway to Ravenna port.
“Assigning unreasonably distant ports involving four to five days of transit is emptying the central Mediterranean of vital [SAR] assets, leading to more tragedies and shipwrecks,” it said.
UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk hit out the law passed by Italy’s parliament yesterday, and which is scheduled to be considered by the Senate next week.
“We all watch with horror the plight of those crossing the Mediterranean, and the desire to end that suffering is profound. But this is simply the wrong way to address this humanitarian crisis,” Mr Türk said.
“More people in distress will be made to suffer and more lives risk being lost because timely help is not available, if this law is passed.
“The law would effectively punish both migrants and those who seek to help them. This penalisation of humanitarian actions would likely deter human rights and humanitarian organisations from doing their crucial work.”
Top image shows the 31 people rescued by the Aita Mari’s crew on Wednesday [Pic: Ximena Borrazas / @XimenaBorrazas / @maydayterraneo]