Meanwhile, search for missing boat carrying 500 people in Malta’s SAR zone goes on
TWENTY-SEVEN people are feared to have been pushed back to Libya today after Italy ordered the commercial ship that rescued them to head towards the war torn country.
The activist-run distress hotline organisation Alarm Phone was alerted to a boat in distress carrying around 27 people in the central Mediterranean late on Tuesday night.
“They are in international waters and [are struggling] in bad weather conditions,” Alarm Phone warned on Wednesday morning, adding that the maritime authorities had been informed.
That evening, Alarm Phone said it had learnt that the Italian authorities had instructed a commercial ship called P Long Beach (which is operated by the Greek shipping company Performance Shipping) to head towards the boat’s position.
“We remind authorities and merchant vessels that Libya is not a safe port,” it said.
A UN fact-finding mission reported in March that it had found widespread evidence of crimes against humanity being committed against migrants in Libya since 2016.
One of the report’s authors, Chaloka Beyani, told Al Jazeera that the EU’s support of the Libyan coastguard “has aided and abetted the commission of the crimes.”
The rescue organisation SOS Humanity posted an audio clip this morning of the captain of its ship, the Humanity 1, communicating over the radio with the P Long Beach.
“Can you confirm that you rescued the distress case, the people in a boat in distress, 27 people, over,” the captain says in the clip.
“Yes Sir, we already rescued these 27 people,” the P Long Beach says in return.
“Ok, can you tell me what your intentions are? Where do you want to [take] them?” says the Humanity 1 captain.
“We are heading to Libya, Sir. Libya, yes,” responds the P Long Beach.
“Ok, that’s understood. You [are taking] the people to Libya,” the activist captain says.
“Can I please advise you not to [take] the people to Libya. If you [take] the people to Libya you are breaching maritime law. You are acting against the law and you are acting against human rights,” he says as the clips ends.
Sending people back to a country where they may face persecution (legally referred to as refoulement, more commonly known as “pushback”) is a breach of human rights and maritime laws, including the UN 1951 Refugee Convention and the and UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“Libya is not a safe place,” SOS Humanity said today.
“We fear these people will again face arbitrary detention, torture and inhumane treatment.
“We call on Italy to immediately assign a safe place to prevent this human rights violation.”
Ship tacking websites showed the P Long Beach at anchor off the coast near Brega, northeast Libya, this evening.
In another worrying situation, the fate of about 500 people in a boat that had reached Malta‘s search-and-rescue (SAR) zone yesterday morning, remains unclear.
Alarm Phone was first contacted by a passenger on that boat on Tuesday morning, who told the network that they had left Libya several days ago and that their engine had stopped working.
“The people report that a lot of water [has] entered the lower deck of the drifting boat, forcing them to move to the upper one,” Alarm Phone said Tuesday.
“So far, no rescue is in sight, and authorities are silent about any efforts to rescue this boat in acute danger. The people ask for immediate rescue!”
The last position Alarm Phone received from the boat was 35 miles within the Malta’s SAR zone, the organisation said yesterday.
Italian media reported this morning that the country’s coastguards had rescued 1,200 people aboard two fishing boats today.
However, it is unclear if the missing 500 were among those rescued.
Meanwhile, the Life Support, a rescue ship operated by Emergency, is still in the SAR zone searching for the missing 500.
Among the missing are 45 women — some of whom are pregnant — and 56 children – including one who was born on the boat, the Life Support’s head of mission Albert Mayordomo said in an audio clip shared by Emergency this evening.
“We tried our best to find these people and we will look for them until tonight,” Mayordomo said.
“Unfortunately, after 32 hours of navigation to reach the distress case, and 24 hours of active search, we still have not found them.
“It is unacceptable that NGOs and not coastal states [have to] defend lives in the Mediterranean Sea.
“We asked Malta and Italy to take on the operation’s responsibility, but they refused to share any information.”
Top image shows the 27 people as seen from the Sea-Watch’s reconnaissance plane Seabird on Wednesday [Pic: Sea-Watch]