Yesterday, 31st of August, the Alarm Phone was in contact with a boat in distress with 38 people on board, among them were 7 women. They left from the town of Assilah, west of the Moroccan coast, at 4 am CET. Their engine soon stopped working and they began drifting southerly. The passengers asked us to inform the Spanish Salvamento Marítimo at 11am. Less than one hour later the situation in the boat was so bad that the passengers asked the Alarm Phone to inform the Moroccan Marine Royale. We did so at 11:45 am. Neither the Moroccan nor the Spanish rescue authorities reacted, even though the passengers were in a high level of distress and a GPS position for the boat was available.
The 38 travellers waited in the burning sun, many of them seasick, with their boat unable to move forward. As the Marine Royal refused to talk to us and gave no sign of reaction, at 1:30 pm we informed again the Spanish coastguard by email: „Still the boat is in distress and we didn’t get any confirmation from Morocco that rescue or even search is ongoing. The people are in real danger. Please consider intervening from Spanish side.“ The Spanish authorities refused to intervene and the Moroccan authorities forwarded to us one telephone number after the other but still did not send a rescue boat to the place of distress.
Around 3 pm we decided to spread the alarm wider. We contacted the UNHCR in Spain and Morocco and spread the message in the networks, including other organisations as CEAR and APDHA to ask for urgent help and pressure for rescue. We sent out the urgent distress case via WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook and many groups and persons supported the distribution of the information. Finally this was successful. At 8pm Salvamento Marítimo sent a helicopter for searching from Spain and they found the boat at 9pm. Salvamento Marítimo informed the Marine Royale. At 10:30 pm they said that they would start the rescue operation. The people in the boat were still waiting.
At 11:21 pm the passengers on the boat were panicking because the rubber boat was loosing a lot of air. The 38 people were suffering after more than 19 hours at sea without help. We demanded again to Salvamento Maritimo to operating rescue. They confirmed and send a boat which we could see moving at 11:30 pm towards Assilah through the vessel tracking platform Marine Traffic. However, the boat of Salvamento Marítimo suddenly turned around and went towards Spain again. At 00:00 am we received the information that the passengers were being rescued now by the Moroccan Marine Royale.
We denounce the European border cooperation as the authorities are playing with the life of many people and do not take responsibility to respect the law of rescue at sea. It was obvious in this case that both the Marine Royale and the Spanish Salvamento Marítimo delayed their reaction to avoid operating rescue, forcing the passengers to stay 20 hours in a very urgent situation. Although there have been possibilities of rescue, means and even concrete positions, none of the rescue teams reacted until midnight. The delay of the rescue could have lead to the death of 38 people. As in the deal between Italy and Libya, « rescue » is being used not to save lives, but to pull-back and contain migrants on the Mediterranean’s southern shore.
We demand ferries for all and freedom of movement for everybody!