[Eyes on the Central Med #9] Renewed hope for search and rescue presence in 2021 amid deadly start of winter off Libya

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.   


Despite winter conditions, departures continue: reports of at least one shipwreck and over 120 people forcibly returned to Libya 

The bodies of four children aged between 5 and 10 washed up on the west coast of Libya on December 16, after a boat sank with approximately 30 people onboard, according to the Libyan Red Crescent. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), in its latest maritime update, talks of 6 bodies retrieved that day. 

On December 17, over 120 people, including 8 women and 28 children were intercepted and forcibly returned to Libya by the Libyan coastguard.   

Between December 15 and 16, four autonomous arrivals were reported to have occurred in Lampedusa by Italian media, with a total of over 310 people who left from Libya and Tunisia, including many women and minors. These were the first landings in fifteen days, due to bad weather conditions according to Agrigento Notizie.   

According to the Italian media Il Manifesto (subscribers only), another minor died in hospital after his health condition deteriorated onboard an Italian “quarantine-ship”. Abdallah Said, a 17-year-old Somali boy, died in Catania on September 14, 22 days before Abou Diakite’s death, after being transported from the GNV Azzurra to the hospital. An investigation is being held by the Syracuse Public Prosecutor’s Office.

November was the deadliest month of the year for people trying to flee Libya and seek safety via the Mediterranean, according to IOM-Libya latest monthly update published on December 11. At least 84 bodies washed ashore and 77 people remain missing following a deadly series of shipwrecks this past month. November also recorded the highest number of interceptions at sea with 1,742 people forcibly returned to Libya. 


The Ocean Viking released from detention in Italy, 5 SAR NGO vessels still blocked 

On December 21, following a two-hour inspection by the Italian coastguard, the Ocean Viking was released from detention after being held in a Sicilian port since July. After months of discussions with relevant stakeholders and costly efforts to meet additional safety requirements set by the Italian authorities, SOS MEDITERRANEE is relieved to be able to go back to sea and resume search and rescue operations in 2021.  

These past two weeks again, the central Mediterranean remained empty of SAR NGO vessels. Five humanitarian NGO vessels are unable to operate due to administrative blockages. SOS MEDITERRANEE expresses its full support to their crews in their effort to go back to sea.  

Since December 12, the team of Pilotes Volontaires resumed its monitoring missions over the Libyan Search and Rescue Region with a new aerial asset, the Colibri 2. For a year, the French NGO had been unable to fly with their first aircraft, the Colibri, due to administrative blockages. Knowing that Pilotes Volontaires is back is a great relief. The presence of civil aerial assets to search for boats in distress is of utmost importance for lives to be saved in the central Mediterranean. 


Over 1,000 deaths recorded in the Mediterranean this year (IOM) 

 The IOM’s Missing Migrants Project has recorded over 3,000 deaths on migratory routes worldwide so far in 2020. “Though the overall number of people known to have lost their lives in 2020 is fewer than previous years, some routes saw an increase in fatalities”, the organisation explains. Most notably, at least 593 people died en route to Spain’s Canary Islands from January 1 to December 17, compared to 210 recorded in 2019. Over 1,000 deaths were reported over the same period in the Mediterranean, including 739 in the central Mediterranean only, which remains the deadliest sea migration route in the world.   



Cover Photo: Kenny Karpov / SOS MEDITERRANEE