Three travellers gone missing in Western Mediterranean

Watch The Med Alarm Phone Investigations – 3rd of December 2017
Case name: 2017_12_03-WM191
Situation: 21 travellers from Morocco, 3 people missing
Status of WTM Investigation: Not concluded
Place of Incident: Western Mediterranean

Summary of the Case:

On Sunday the 3rd of December, at 08:03am, we got alerted by a contact person to a boat in distress that had left from a beach south of Tangier towards Spain at 5am, carrying 21 persons. We called the boat at 08:13am and heard the voices of the travellers as well as the engine of the boat, but they could not hear us. We tried to gather more information about the exact place of departure in order to localize the boat. At 09:10am we managed to establish communication with the boat. Their engine wasn’t working anymore and they reported that people had fallen into the water. At 09:15am we alerted the Spanish rescue authority Salvamento Maritimo (SM). At 09:35am we called the boat again. They reported that only three persons were left on board out of the initial 21 travellers and that the others were in the water. At 09:45am we informed SM whose search operation we could observe on the live map Vesselfinder.

Only at 10:18am did we manage to re-establish contact to the travellers. The situation was getting more dangerous due to rising waves and water that entered the boat. We tried to localize them with descriptions of the commercial cargo ships they saw. We were in contact several times and always passed on the information we were given to SM. At 10:50am we managed to get a clear indication of their position: They saw a name of a cargo ship whose position we checked with Vesselfinder. They were between the cargo ship and the Moroccan coast.

At 10:52am we called SM to pass the news, and wrote an email with all information to the relevant authorities. At 11:19 we observed on Vesselfinder that the rescue asset of Salvamento Maritimo was leaving the area back towards the harbour of Tarifa. At 11:22am we called SM to investigate. They emphasized that the boat in distress was in Moroccan waters and therefore the case would not be their responsibility. They said that they had informed the Moroccan authorities. At 11:35am we called the Moroccan Rescue Coordination Center MRCC Rabat. They confirmed to have received the information from SM and said they would start a rescue operation.

We could not establish contact to the boat anymore and called MRCC Rabat again at 12:00, but they hadn’t found the boat yet. Also Salvamento didn’t have news.

At 12:42pm we reached the boat again. One person had lost consciousness, and the situation was getting critical. We could not find further indication of their position.

At 12:45pm we called MRCC Rabat again, but they did not have news. We therefore wrote another email to the Spanish and Moroccan authorities to request assistance from Spain in the search operation.
At 2:33pm the contact person informed us that the 18 people who were missing had survived and were with the Moroccan authorities. This information was confirmed at 4:30pm by SM.

We could not reach the travellers anymore. During the following days we were continuously calling SM and MRCC Rabat to put pressure on them to continue the search, and to find out if there were any new developments in the case. MRCC Rabat kept confirming that they were still searching for the boat, whilst SM claimed to have no responsibility in the case, as the boat had been in Moroccan waters. On the 6th of December at 5.47pm we chose to conclude that the three people had gone missing, as MRCC Rabat informed us that they were now mainly looking for other boats in the area. This catastrophe could probably have been avoided, if SM had chosen to act in the interest of saving lives at the point where we had a clear indication of the whereabouts of the boat. Instead they acted in the interest of fortress Europe, whose policy it is to push back the task of saving lives to their neighbouring states, without assuming any responsibility for the outcome.