THIRTY people drowned in the central Mediterranean yesterday after the Italian, Maltese and Libyan maritime authorities failed to come to their rescue over 24 hours after the alarm was raised.
Activists from the distress hotline organisation Alarm Phone were contacted by one of the roughly 47 people aboard a boat in the Libyan search-and-rescue (SAR) zone in the early hours of Saturday morning.
By 2:28am (CET) the Alarm Phone activists had received the boat’s GPS position and passed it on to the Italian, Maltese, and Libyan maritime rescue coordination centres (MRCC).
“The situation was critical,” Alarm Phone said in a press release last night. “The boat was adrift. The weather conditions were extremely dangerous. The people on board were screaming on the phone that they needed help.”
However, neither the Libyan, Italian nor Maltese authorities sent any SAR assets to the boat’s GPS position on Saturday or Sunday.
“Both in emails and phone calls, we repeatedly informed the Italian MRCC about this situation. We sent GPS positions, pointed to the deteriorating condition of the people and the boat, and requested immediate rescue activities many times.”
The boat was spotted later on Saturday afternoon by activists aboard the reconnaissance plane Seabird 2.
“Time is running out to rescue [the roughly] 50 people on board this boat,” refugee rescuers Sea-Watch posted on social media above a photograph taken from the Seabird 2 on Saturday.
“The distress case is drifting in the high waves. A nearby merchant ship is not equipped for rescues and has been ordered by Italian authorities to wait for the [so-called] Libyan Coastguard, but they do not come.
“After calling the Libyan rescue centre, they confirmed they would not send a ship. When we reach the Italian MRCC [Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre] again with the question of who will take over coordination and responsibility for the people, the officer in charge hangs up.”
Alarm Phone said that the Libyan coastguards also told its activists that they were not able to intervene because of a lack of assets and that Italy was coordinating the rescue.
“These are the so-called coastguards that Italy and the European Union refer to as the competent authorities in the so-called Libyan SAR zone,” Alarm Phone said.
Three merchant vessels — Basilis L, Atlantic North and Kinling — did reach the boat over the course of the weekend. They appear to have monitored the boat but did not launch a rescue.
This afternoon, Sea-Watch shared the Seabird 2’s radio communications with MRCC Rome, Libya’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC), and the Basilis L.
“You were in contact with MRCC Rome,” one of the Seabird 2’s crew members says over the radio to the Basilis L as it draws closer to the boat. “What did they advise you?”
A person from the Basilis L replies: “They advised me to follow [the] Libyan Coastguard.”
Sea-Watch’s recording shows the Libyan authorities saying that they do not have any boats available.
We then hear another Seabird 2 activist informing MRCC Rome that the Libya’s are unable to launch a rescue.
“Who is responsible now for this case as JRCC Libya is not able to respond to this distress case?,” Sea-Watch ask.
“Okay, thank you for the information. Bye, bye bye,” comes MRCC Rome’s reply.
Alarm Phone said its last communication with the 47 people on board the boat was at 6:50am (CET) on March 12.
“They were exhausted and desperate, screaming and crying for help,” Alarm Phone said.
“Immediately after that phone call, we sent their GPS position to the authorities, asking them again to urgently intervene. At 7:20am (CET), they called a last time, but nothing was heard.
“After our last contact, the boat capsized. Only 17 people survived. They were rescued by the merchant vessel Froland, while 30 others lost their lives.
“The survivors, who saw friends die next to them, need to be brought to a place of safety in Europe.”
Top image shows the boat on Saturday. Only 17 of those people have survived. [Pic: Sea-Watch]