Dozens of boats in distress, several victims at sea, a rescue operation marathon, and humanitarian ships at the limit of their capacity… This was the scenario faced by the NGOs MOAS, Jugend Rettet and Sea Eye, who relentlessly operated throughout Easter weekend in the Mediterranean. As already requested by SOS MEDITERRANEE for months now: there is, more than ever before, a great urgency to deploy more means of rescue at sea.
That weekend, close to a total of 8,000 people were rescued in the Mediterranean during about fifty different rescue operations, largely carried out by humanitarian organizations, Italian coastguards and merchant vessels.
On Friday, during a day of non-stop rescue operations, the Aquarius saved more than 500 people and sadly found a lifeless body at the bottom of one of the rescued inflatable boats. During the hours that followed, the Aquarius – following the instructions of the maritime rescue coordination center in Rome – was heading towards the port of Pozzallo, when the other humanitarian ships that remained at sea were confronted with a tragic situation.
According to the news published on social networks of various NGOs, on Saturday April 15, at dawn, the Phoenix carried out a veritable 48-hour-long rescue marathon. With more than 450 survivors on board – as well as 7 corpses – the MOAS ship was at the maximum of its capabilities; however, it continued to patrol the area while providing assistance to a thousand more people that were still aboard nine boats in distress, before receiving reinforcement from ships of NGOs Jugend Rettet (Iuventa), Sea-Eye, as well as those of the Italian coast guards and two commercial vessels.
The Sea-Eye, a former 26-meter fishing boat, welcomed 200 people on board. Despite all efforts, the volunteer crew was unable to revive a pregnant woman in desperate state aboard one of the canoes. Between 8 to 10 bodies were found around the craft.
On Sunday morning, Iuventa, the humanitarian ship of Jugend Rettet, signaled an SOS: the overloaded ship with more than 300 people on board – including eight pregnant women – found it impossible to maneuver and help hundred others aboard several boats in distress. What followed were long hours of waiting, in anticipation for more reinforcement, as weather conditions began to deteriorate. Finally, after hours of panic, the aid arrived and the “worst was avoided”, reassures the NGO Jugend Rettet.
The events that happened during these 48 tragic hours in the Mediterranean have been difficult to reconstruct in real time. Involved in multiple and delicate rescue operations, respective crews of the humanitarian ships saved their satellite communication channels for emergency calls from the maritime rescue coordination center in Rome.
On board of the Aquarius, docked at the port of Catania for a routine stopover, the SOS MEDITERRANEE crew followed the turn of events with intense preoccupation and held to showing its solidarity with the crews of the NGOs involved in these delicate and tragic operations.
In spring 2017, the crossings continue at a steady pace. The tragic situation experienced and reported by the NGOs during Easter weekend reminds us that strengthening the rescue system in the Central Mediterranean is urgently needed to face this unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
Text: Natalia Lupi
Translation French – English: Nigâr E.
Photos: Patrick Bar