30 people die due to non-assistance by the Italian authorities

Source: Alarm Phone

The Alarm Phone was alerted by 47 people on a boat in distress, trying to escape from the inhumane conditions in Libya. They relayed their GPS position (N 33°56, E018°28) which we forwarded to the Italian, Maltese, and Libyan authorities at 2:28h CET on 11 March. The situation was critical. The boat was adrift. The weather conditions were extremely dangerous. The people on board were screaming on the phone that they needed help. 

Both in emails and phone calls, we repeatedly informed the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) about this situation. We sent GPS positions, pointed to the deteriorating condition of the people and the boat, and requested immediate rescue activities many times. Shortly after the first alert, we requested at 3:01h CET from MRCC Rome to order the merchant vessel AMAX AVENUE, which was in the vicinity, to intervene. But it did not stop and passed by the scene of distress. If instructed by MRCC Rome, it could have intervened.

We also informed the public by repeatedly sending out tweets on the deteriorating situation: https://twitter.com/alarm_phone/status/1634446086721945602

Nine hours after the first alert, the aerial asset Seabird 2 of Sea-Watch spotted the boat in distress from the sky, also informing the authorities about the urgency of the situation. 

Still, only merchant vessels – not Italian assets or assets of operation IRINI – reached the scene of distress after many hours. This delay, one of the many systematic delays Alarm Phone has documented over the years, proved to be deadly. For many hours, the merchant vessels were merely monitoring the situation but not intervening. Clearly, the Italian authorites were trying to avoid that the people would be brought to Italy, delaying intervention so that the so-called Libyan coastguards would arrive and forcibly return people to Libya, back to the torturous conditions they had tried to escape from.

In phone calls, the so-called Libyan authorities informed Alarm Phone initially that they would send a vessel out. Later they stated that they were not available to intervene due to a lack of assets and that Italy was coordinating the Search and Rescue (SAR) event. These are the so-called coastguards that Italy and the European Union refer to as the competent authorities in the so-called Libyan SAR zone. 

Our last communication with the people on board was at 06:50h CET on 12 March. They were exhausted and desperate, screaming and crying for help. Immediately after that phone call, we sent their GPS position to the authorities, asking them again to urgently intervene. At 07:20 CET, they called a last time, but nothing was heard.

After our last contact, the boat capsized. Only 17 people survived. They were rescued by the merchant vessel FROLAND, while 30 others lost their lives. The survivors, who saw friends die next to them, need to be brought to a place of safety in Europe.

We need to ask:

Why, given the urgency of the situation, did the Italian authorities not send adequate rescue assets immediately to the scene of distress?

Why did the Italian authorities hesitate to direct nearby merchant vessels to the boat in distress, despite knowing of the critical situation and conditions?

Where were the assets of the EU naval operation IRINI and, if available, why did they not intervene?

Why were the merchant vessels merely monitoring the situation but not trying to rescue the 47 people sooner?

Why were the so-called Libyan coastguards unavailable for intervention? Why, knowing that the Libyan forces could not intervene, do the Italian authorities continue to refer to them as the responsible authorities?

Why are the rescue NGOs blocked in Italian harbours?

Why, after the deadly shipwreck of Crotone and the innumerable deaths and disappearances in the Mediterranean Sea over the last years, is the EU still militarising its borders, deterring people on the move, and letting thousands drown?

Europe’s borders continue to kill! Freedom of movement for all!