The following publication by SOS MEDITERRANEE intends to shed light on events which unfolded in the Central Mediterranean in the past two 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.
Open Arms crew mourns six lives lost in critical operation, more than 250 rescued within 72 hours
Exactly two weeks ago, on Wednesday 11, the crew of Spanish NGO Proactiva-Open Arms performed a rescue which turned out to be critical: More than 120 people, among them children, fell into the water when the fragile hull of the rubber boat they were trying to flee Libya on collapsed. 118 people could be rescued and brought to safety on the Open Arms, 5 bodies were recovered. 6-month-old Yusuf was resuscitated on board but later succumbed to the consequences of the shipwreck. A heartbreaking video of Yusuf’s mother desperately searching for her baby during the rescue made headlines in the international press and was widely shared on social media.
The same day, the crew performed another rescue –the third of the Open Arms’ most recent mission– of 64 persons. After two medical evacuations, the Open Arms disembarked 255 survivors to Italian Coast Guard vessels off Trapani, Sicily on Sunday, November 15.
The crew on the Open Arms is currently undergoing a 14-day quarantine. The ship was the first civilian rescue asset present in the Central Mediterranean in weeks, as seven NGO ships that usually operate in the area (Alan Kurdi, Sea Watch 3, Sea Watch 4, Mare Jonio, Ocean Viking, Louise Michel, Aita Mari) are unable to carry out their lifesaving missions due to administrative blockages.
Almost 100 people drown off Libya within one day
Just a day after the critical rescue by the Open Arms, at least 74 people died in the shipwreck of a boat carrying at least 120 people off the Libyan shore. 47 survivors were brought to shore by local fishermen and the Libyan Coast Guard. It was the second deadly shipwreck that week, after at least 13 people were reported missing after their boat capsized on Monday, November 10. 11 survivors were returned to Libyan shores by the Libyan Coast Guard. We mentioned this incident in the last edition of “Eyes on the Mediterranean”.
The same day, Médecins Sans Frontières reported on another shipwreck in which at least 20 people lost their lives, raising the death toll in the Central Mediterranean to almost 100 within 24 hours. Only three women survived and testified on the incident.
At least four shipwrecks occurred within 72 hours in the week of November 9 to 15, including the one that led to the critical rescue conducted by Open Arms. In the light of these tragedies, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has called for a change in the approach to Search and Rescue in the Mediterranean.
Seven bodies washed up on Libyan shores last week. 720 deaths have been confirmed by the Missing Migrants project of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in the Central Mediterranean so far this year.
409 people were intercepted at sea and returned to Libya within the past two weeks – all between November 10 and 16 – where the IOM reports “increased violence, abuse and excessive use of force against migrants” in some coastal cities and detention centres since early October. Two migrants were reportedly killed and two others were wounded by gunshots when protesting their arrest near Sabratha early last month.
31 people rescued by Italian authorities after shipwreck off Lampedusa
Meanwhile, commercial vessels and the Italian authorities were also involved in rescue operations in the Mediterranean and close to Lampedusa. On November 12, the crew on offshore supply vessel Asso Trenta rescued 76 people in the proximity of the Bouri oil field, some 60 Nautical Miles off the Libyan Coast. The Italian Guardia di Finanza and Coast Guard reportedly performed several operations off Lampedusa over the past two weeks, one of them following the shipwreck off Lampedusa of a boat carrying 31 persons, all of whom were saved. Shortly before this incident, two boats were escorted to the port of Lampedusa by the Guardia di Finanza, one of them carrying 186 and the other 12 people.
168 people were rescued by the Italian Coast Guard off Lampedusa on November 13.
Photo Credit: Kenny Karpov / SOS MEDITERRANEE