Cover picture eyes of the Mediterranean

[Eyes on the central Med #25] Hundreds of women, children and men rescued and assisted at sea by civilian search and rescue assets while interceptions by Libyan Coast Guards and forced returns to Libya continued.

The following publication by SOS MEDITERRANEE intends to shed light on events which unfolded in the central Mediterranean in the past three weeks. It is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather to provide a general update on maritime search-and-rescue-related matters occurring in the area we have been operating in since 2016, based on public reports by different NGOs, international organisations and the international press.

488 people rescued from imminent danger at sea currently onboard two NGO ships

The MSF search and rescue vessel Geo Barents currently carries 322 people rescued from five boats in distress in the central Mediterranean since August 5. The youngest survivor onboard is only two weeks old. Most of the boats rescued were made of wood, including one large, which was a double deck carrying 189 people.

Another 166 survivors, including a 9-month-old baby, rescued from four boats in distress at sea between August 13 and 15,, are currently onboard the ResQ People, the former Alan Kurdi rescue ship which is now operated by the Italian NGO ResQ- People Saving People. The ship was assigned Augusta, Sicily, as Place of Safety on August 17.

Hundreds of people rescued and countless boats stabilized by NGO vessels in the past three weeks

The Ocean Viking rescued 555 people, including 119 minors, 4 pregnant women and a 3-month-old baby, from six boats in distress in the central Mediterranean between July 31st and August 1st. One rescue operation of a large wooden boat in distress was performed in cooperation with the Sea-Watch 3 and the sailing boat Nadir (of the NGO ResQ) in a critical nighttime operation during which the overcrowded wooden boat was taking on water. Eventually, 253 people were safely brought onboard the Ocean Viking and 141 people were evacuated onto the Sea-Watch 3. Between July 30 and August 2, the Sea-Watch 3 rescued 264 people in total, in four different operations, and assisted approximately 90 others, that were eventually rescued by Italian Coast Guard.

On August 4, as over 800 people rescued at sea were awaiting the designation of a Place of Safety onboard the Sea-Watch 3 and the Ocean Viking, the Italian office of Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese requested “immediate, even temporary, activation of a mechanism that involves the [EU] member states to allow for docking that is safe and compatible with anti-COVID-19 measures, to NGO ships flying European banners” in a telephone conversation with the European Union’s internal affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, reported Associated Press . According to the press agency, “in her appeal to Johansson, the Italian minister pitched for negotiations for a new immigration and asylum pact to call for “obligatory redistribution of the migrants saved at sea.””

On August 6, the Sea-Watch 3 was assigned Trapani, Sicily, as port of disembarkation for the 257 survivors remaining onboard, following two medical evacuations. The disembarkation was completed on August 8. The Ocean Viking had to wait one more day, six days in total, before being designated a place of safety in Pozzallo (Sicily), to disembark the 549 shipwrecked people remaining onboard. Six persons, four patients and their relatives, had to be urgently medically evacuated in the meantime. The disembarkation process took four days before all survivors could be authorised to leave the ship. The team onboard Ocean Viking is now undergoing a 10-day quarantine ordered by Italian health authorities.

According to the Times of Malta, hundreds of people were reported in distress on August 2. The sailing boat Nadir of the NGO ResQship, assisted several boats, two persons in critical conditions received lifesaving medical treatment on board the sailing vessel. One man had to be resuscitated by a paramedic before being medically evacuated to Malta. Most boats were reportedly rescued by Italian, Maltese and Tunisian Coast Guards hours after NGOs alerted to their distress and sent Mayday relays on their behalf. One boat remained accounted for.

Over 2,650 people intercepted in the Maltese and Libyan Search and Rescue Regions by the Libyan Coast Guard.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), between August 1st and 7th, 864 people were intercepted at sea and another 1,788 have been intercepted between August 8 and 14. The women, children and men intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard are forcibly and illegally returned to Libya, which is not a Place of Safety.

On August 12, the NGO ResQ-People Saving People reported that its ship had witnessed an interception by the Libyan Coast Guard of people in distress in the Maltese Search and Rescue Region. The next day, Pilotes Volontaires’ aircraft Colibri2 reported having spotted three dinghies that were intercepted by Libyan Coast Guard.

Over 1000 people are known to have died at sea since the beginning of the year.

Since the month of January, at least 1,009 people are known to have died in the central Mediterranean, according to the IOM Missing Migrants Project. That’s 85% of the deaths recorded in the Mediterranean sea.

IOM reported that eight dead bodies were retrieved on the Libyan Coast, on August 7.

Photo credit: Flavio Gasperini / SOS MEDITERRANEE