JULY 2022

For July the CMRCC counted a minimum of 158 boats departing from Libya. 72 of these arrived autonomously or with support through the Alarm Phone hotline, while 32 boats were rescued by the civil fleet. For the route from Tunisia towards Lampedusa, the Alarm Phone counted 223 boats which arrived on the island.

The Alarm Phone learned about 66 people who died on this route, while 86 people went missing. These numbers however we believe to be much higher, as many shipwrecks tend to happen without witnesses.

1 July Seabird 1 (Sea Watch) locates a wooden boat carrying 14 people in distress, and alerts nearby vessels. The sailing ship Imara (R42 sailandrescue) is first on scene and is able to support the people until the vessel Ocean Viking (SOS Mediteranée) arrives and takes the people on board (1).
2 July 68 people in distress reach out to the Alarm Phone and later end up on the infrastructure of the Miskar offshore oil platform. The Ocean Viking is willing to assist the group, but the alerted state authorities ignore this offer and instead organize an illegal pushback to Tunisia (cf. focus).
3 July After an alert from the Alarm Phone, the vessel Ocean Viking rescues 63 people from a wooden boat.
4 July The Ocean Viking rescues another 15 people from a rubber boat which had previously reached out to the Alarm Phone.
7 July After being alerted by the Alarm Phone, the vessel Geo Barents (Médecins Sans Frontières) rescues 41 people in distress from two fiberglass boats. During the remainder of the day, the crew spots an additional 4 boats and takes a total of 315 guests on board (2).
19 July The vessel Rise Above (Mission Lifeline) rescues 63 people from a wooden boat.
23 July The Sea-Watch 3 (Sea-Watch) locates and rescues 101 people from a wooden boat. On the same day, the Alarm Phone is alerted by the people on board three rubber boats, carrying more than 300 people. All three boats are rescued by the Sea-Watch 3 (3).
14 July Off the coast of Libya, the Ocean Viking rescues three rubber boats carrying a total of 258 people. Two of the boats had previously reached out to Alarm Phone. After the Alarm Phone forwards a distress call from 16 people, the sailing vessel Imara (r42 sailandrescue) is able to locate and assist the boat for some hours until the better equipped Sea-Watch 3 arrives and takes the people on board (4).
25 July The vessel Geo Barents rescues 52 people from a wooden boat and 13 people from a smaller fiberglass boat. Both groups had previously reached out to the Alarm Phone. The Ocean Viking locates and rescues 39 people in distress and afterwards changes course towards a further 80 people aboard a rubber boat who had previously alerted the Alarm Phone.
26 July The Geo Barents rescues a total of 158 people from 4 different boats in distress. One of these boats was spotted from the bridge, while the other three had first reached out to the Alarm Phone, which forwarded the alerts.
27 July The Geo Barents continues with the rescues of a further three boats, of which one carries 232 people. One of the boats had previously called the Alarm Phone for help.
28 July The Alarm Phone receives two distress calls from people at sea. With assistance from the aircraft Seabird 1, which helps to locate it, one of the fiberglass boats carrying 40 people is rescued by the Geo Barents. Afterwards, the Geo Barents locates another 23 people who had called the Alarm Phone for help.
31 July The sailing vessel Nadir (RESQSHIP) overhears a fishing vessel via radio asking for help for 88 people on a drifting wooden boat near Lampedusa. Once on scene, Nadir supports the people throughout the day until the larger vessel the Sea-Eye 4 (Sea-Eye) arrives and takes the people on board (5) (cf. focus).                                                                                                  

02.07.2022 – Attempt by the civil fleet to rescue people in distress stranded on an oil platform, resulting in an interception to Tunisia

Alarm Phone was alerted by 68 people (including 2 children) on board an overcrowded wooden boat in distress within the Maltese Search and Rescue Region (SRR), who were at sea after having departed from the Libyan coast. The people on board the boat in distress reported that one woman was sick and that one man on board had already died during the ordeal. The vessel Ocean Viking (SOS Mediterranée), having received the alert, then changed course in order to meet with the people in distress. The Frontex aircraft Osprey 2 was also observed operating in the area and was likely on scene with the people in distress during the day, witnessing events but not alerting members of the civil fleet about the presence of the people or developments in their condition.

The people in distress ended up climbing onto the infrastructure of the Miskar offshore oil platform, where they continued to call the Alarm Phone for help – the personnel on the oil platform also requesting that the crew of the Ocean Viking should intervene. The people however were ultimately intercepted and pushed back to Tunisia by the Tunisian coastguard, after the Maltese rescue coordination center had told the crew of the approaching Ocean Viking that their assistance was not necessary. For ten hours the Ocean Viking had made the offer to authorities to assist the situation.

The presence and cooperation of the civil fleet in this instance, even though it held the capacity to deliver a safe and legal outcome for the people in distress, was ultimately hindered by authorities which hold the primary objective of pushing people back to countries from which they are attempting to escape, in violation of their fundamental rights.

31.07.2022 – Alert by a fishing vessel overheard by Seabird 1 and the Nadir, distress case assisted by the Nadir and then rescued by the Sea-Eye 4

While flying over the Maltese Search and Rescue Region at just before 1500 UTC, the air crew of the aircraft Seabird 1 (Sea-Watch) overheard an unknown fishing vessel communicating a position over the radio. The crew of the sailing vessel Nadir also overheard this same broadcast, whereupon they changed their course in order to investigate the position as their vessel was in the vicinity. At just before 1700 UTC, the Nadir had located a boat in distress at the reported position. This was an overcrowded gray wooden boat which was carrying 88 people without any navigational or lifesaving equipment.

The Nadir was firstly able to assist the people in distress by distributing life jackets and water to them, before remaining alongside their boat in order to monitor the safety of the situation. In the meantime, the larger and better equipped Sea-Eye 4 was able to approach the scene, eventually arriving to meet the Nadir and the people in distress during the night. All 88 survivors could then finally be brought on board the Sea-Eye 4 without harm and given medical attention. Malta once again knowingly decided not to fulfill its responsibility during this incident of an overcrowded vessel in distress within its SRR, where the people involved could fortunately be assisted, rescued and then disembarked in a safe place, though thanks only to the efforts of members of the civil fleet. It can be further noted that the Sea-Eye 4 was subsequently forced by authorities to wait an inordinate period of twelve days at sea until the disembarkation of these persons was at last permitted.

ECHOES Issue 2, September 2022