On 18 August, Alarm Phone was in contact with a boat carrying about 110 people on board, including 40 children. They had fled from Lebanon and were trying to escape to Italy. They had reached the Search and Rescue (SAR) zone of Malta when they told Alarm Phone at 14:56h CEST that a vessel with a Libyan flag was chasing after them and armed men were shooting at them, injuring one person on board.
From 15:04h CEST on, we informed several EU authorities to this severe emergency situation on 18 August: the Maltese, the Italian, and the Greek authorities. Over the following hours, we alerted authorities repeatedly, pointing to the violent assault that the people were experiencing in the Maltese and Greek SAR zones, and demanded a rescue operation. The people on board also informed us that they had spotted a drone above them two days earlier – we checked the flight track of a Frontex drone, which appears to correlate with their possible location.
We stayed in contact with the distressed, trying to receive updates on their location and situation. At 15:50h CEST, the people on board spoke of “bad guys” that were following them and trying to kidnap them. At 16:12h CEST, they reported that they had themselves informed the Greek coastguard who had said, according to the people, that they could not do anything as they were in Malta SAR zone. The Greek coastguard reportedly told them that they would inform the Maltese authorities.
At 16:52h CEST, the people in distress told us that they were moving into the Greek SAR zone in order to escape from the Libyan vessel chasing them. At 17:36h CEST, they told us that one of their engines had stopped working after being shot at by the Libyan forces. Also, someone on board was injured by a bullet. This was the last contact we had to the people in distress.
Over the following hours, we tried to re-establish contact to the boat – in vain. Still, we tried to mobilise rescue by repeatedly enquiring with European authorities whether they had launched rescue procedures, unfortunately also in vain.
At 22:40h CEST, the Greek coastguard suggested on the phone that they could not reach the distressed but that Malta was handling the situation, as the boat was in their SAR zone and we should contact them instead. At 22:45h CEST we once more called RCC Malta only to be put on hold for a long time before the call was cut. We called again but the call was ended once more. We called a third time, were put on hold for six minutes, then the call was ended.
At 4:37h CEST on 19 August, we spoke again to the Greek authorities who shouted at us, telling us that Malta, not the Greek coastguard, was responsible for this distress case. We informed the Greek officer that the Maltese authorities were not picking up the phone to which he replied that the Maltese authorities were the competent and responsible authorities.
At 10:33h CEST, in a phone call again with the Greek authorities, the officer on duty informed us that they were aware of the case, had even sent a boat to the location but could not find them. At 12:10h CEST, when asked whether they were still searching for the boat, the Greek authorities confirmed. At 12:11h CEST, when we were finally able to speak to RCC Malta again, the officer on duty said that he was simply “the operator” and could not give us any information. He also said that he was unable to point us to someone who felt responsible.
On 20 August, relatives of the people on board contacted Alarm Phone and told us that they feared the 110 people have been abducted to Libya and are being held in a military prison in Benghazi. Currently, we are trying to find more information regarding the people who had fled from Lebanon, reached the Search and Rescue zones of two EU member states, only to be forced to Libya where they are at risk of facing extreme forms of violence.