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336 lives saved in the central Mediterranean in less than 12 hours

Rescuers condemn Italy for systematically assigning distant ports following their rescue operations, and the Mare Librum announces it will end its activism in Greece

OVER 300 people could have died in the central Mediterranean today were it not for the actions of the activist network of refugee rescuers.

The crew of the Geo Barents rescue ship saved the lives of about 336 people in two operations in less than 12 hours between last night and this morning.

The distress hotline organisation Alarm Phone notified the Geo Barent’s crew of a boat in distress carrying about 300 people on Monday night.

The second operation, which was coordinated by the Italian maritime authorities, saw the crew pick up another 36 people from a small fibreglass boat in distress.

Both rescues occurred in Malta‘s search-and-rescue (SAR) zone — a section of the central Mediterranean in which the island nation is legally responsible for coordinating rescues but has largely refused to do so, or even communicate with activist-rescue ships, since 2020.

“Without the efforts of the civil fleet, in less than 12 hours, 336 people could have died at sea,” said Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the charity which runs the Geo Barents, today.

“Among them are 52 women and girls, three of them pregnant, and a total of 80 minors, including two newborns under the age of one-year-old.”

Though the Italian authorities did coordinate the second rescue, they infuriated the rescuers after ordering them to take the rescued to another distant port in the northeast of Italy.

“The Italian authorities have assigned us La Spezia as a place of safety to disembark the 336 survivors currently aboard the Geo Barents,” MSF said today.

“Other suitable ports are significantly closer to our current location. Why not Pozzalo, Palermo or Augusta again?

“Reminder: this is against international law and this is unacceptable.”

Just this morning, the Ocean Viking rescue ship finally disembarked 168 survivors in northern Italy.

Her crew carried out three rescue operations in under seven hours in Malta’s SAR zone last Friday, with help from Alarm Phone, the Italian authorities, and the NGO reconnaissance plane Seabird 1 — owned and operated by fellow rescuers Sea-Watch.

Many of those the Ocean Viking’s crew rescued had been at sea for days without food and water, and Alarm Phone had already alerted their presence to the authorities days before.

“This morning, the 168 women, men and children on board the Ocean Viking reached a place of safety in the port of Civitavecchia after [over] 940km of navigation,” the organisation that runs the ship, SOS Mediterranee, said today.

“Assigning unreasonably distant port is worsening the fragile condition of survivors and emptying the central Mediterranean of vital SAR assets.”

Meanwhile, three search-and-rescue organisation — SOS Humanity, Mission Lifeline and Sea-Eye — announced last week that they have launched legal action against the Italian authorities over their systematic practice of assigning distant ports following their rescue missions.

The organisation said in a joint statement last week that “the systematic assignment of distant ports by the Italian authorities since December 2022 is not in compliance with international maritime law.

“[The policy] clearly endangers the well-being of survivors of distress at sea and is aimed at illegally restricting the activities of NGOs.”

Over 400 people died and more than 300 went missing in the central Mediterranean between January and March, the IOM said last month, “making it the deadliest first quarter on record since 2017.”

However, the Missing Migrants Project put the number much higher last week.

“We have recorded nearly 300 deaths in the Central Mediterranean in just the last 10 days,” it said last Thursday.

“Already in 2023, at least 824 people have lost their lives on this route.”

Finally, the activist group Mare Liberum, which monitored the Greek coastguard’s treatment of refugees in the Aegean Sea, announced it was putting an end to its activism today.

The group said the increasing repression by the local security authorities on Lesbos and Greece‘s right-wing conservative government have made it impossible to observe the border authorities.

“Neither German nor other EU governments are seriously committed to treating refugees at the EU borders in accordance with human rights,” said Hanno Bruchmann, a member of the Mare Liberum board.

“Systematic illegal pushbacks, violence, imprisonment and undignified camps and the criminalisation of refugees are the order of the day. Actors of solidarity, such as us as human rights observers, are also increasingly persecuted.

“Although we are able to defend ourselves against legal prosecution, we cannot continue our work in this way. Things cannot go on like this.

“The Greek government and the EU must prosecute the crimes we document and stop pushbacks.

“There needs to be safe corridors into the EU with guaranteed respect for human rights for all people, not just Europeans.”


Published by The Civil Fleet

A news blog and podcast focused on the activist-led refugee rescue and support missions across Fortress Europe

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