News (EN)

25 – 27 July 2020: criminal omissions and foiled deportations

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

 

Report on solidarity practices and breaking the liquid border regime in the Mediterranean.  

 

The practices of cooperation and active solidarity that a multiplicity of actors, including Mediterranea Saving Humans, has been able to put in place during the weekend between the evening of Saturday 25th and the morning of Monday 27th July, describe a situation of permanent and repeated violation of people’s fundamental human rights in the Central Mediterranean, but at the same time they also indicate how it is possible to fight them with some effectiveness.

 

The crucial information is: in two different cases, 95 and 45 people respectively, women, children, men, whose fates could have been forever scarred by dying either by starvation or by drowning, or by being forced to return to the Libyan hell, were instead saved and were able to land and disembark in a “safe port”. The second group was  actually rescued on Sunday evening by a patrol boat of the Guardia di Finanza less than 6 miles from the Italian SAR zone south of Lampedusa. 

  

How did it happen?

It all began last Saturday at 11:55 p.m., when Alarm Phone, a hotline that is active 24/7 thanks to an extraordinary network of African and European activists on both shores of our sea, announces publicly that it notified both Maltese and Italian maritime authorities that a wooden boat carrying 95 people, whom we’ll later learn were all Eritrean, was located at coordinates 34°24’N 012°04’E in the Maltese search and rescue area (SAR area), but it was also very close to the boundaries of the Tunisian and Libyan SAR zones. 

At 2:45 a.m. on Sunday, the people on board contact Alarm Phone (AP) again. The boat is overcrowded. They are not able to empty the boat of incoming water. “Help. We are dying,” they scream into the satellite phone. The ship Maridive 230 is approximately 20 nautical miles from the boat’s location and could be given the order to rescue them, but the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in La Valletta (MRCC Malta) does not respond to AP’s calls. At 3:45 a.m., the people stranded on the boat inform AP that they have received a call from a Maltese phone number. The voice on the call told them, “We are coming to get you.” At 8:36 a.m., the people on the boat continue to indicate their position, but no one intervenes. There is a ship within sight, but it does not come near them. Water continues to enter the boat, they say desperately, adding that two people have dived into the water, and one of them has disappeared amongst the waves. 

 

 In the meantime, however, many people on land are sounding the alarm: the communities of the Eritrean diaspora in both Africa and Europe; Giulia Tranchina, a lawyer who is personally in contact with them; Sara Creta, a journalist threatened by Libyan gangs and on equal footing as Nello Scavo from L’Avvenire for her commitment in denouncing the horrors of the detention camps in Libya. Furthermore, it seems that most of the people shipwrecked come from the infamous Tajoura detention center.

From the very beginning, the members of the “Civil Fleet”, Mediterranea Saving Humans and Sea-Watch’s Airborne Team’s planes, Moonbird and Seabird, monitoring this area of the sea, start collaborating with AP, in what could be seen as a budding “Civil MRCC”.  

Contacts within the Catholic Church, civil society and independent media in Malta are mobilized. The authorities in La Valletta cannot be allowed to grievously violate international law once again. Their intentions are immediately clear: just as they did many times in previous months, they are waiting for the “so called” Libyan Coast Guard’s motorboats to intercept their “targets”. They want another “push-back;” they want the deportation of these peaceful refugees who are protected under international law. They want to bring them back to Libya, the place from which they are escaping. This cannot and must not end this way.

 

The pressure on the government of Malta grows exponentially. The United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is mobilized, via their offices in Italy and Malta first, and then their HQ in Geneva as well. Communication plays a decisive role. The recording of the satellite phone call received by AP containing the desperate request for help received from the wooden boat is broadcast around the world. No one can ever claim they did not know of the crime that was about to take place in front of everyone’s eyes. 

 

By 6:15 p.m., the shipwrecked people have been without drinking water for hours and are at the limits of exhaustion. They report that another commercial ship was nearby, but it left without offering assistance. We study the maps in order to understand what vessel was in the area: less than ten nautical miles away there is an oil tanker flying the Maltese flag sailing toward an Italian port. We contact the oil company. They demonstrate great sensitivity to the situation and speak to the ship owner: there is an obligation to rescue people at sea, and  those who fail to do so commit a crime punishable by law.

Before midnight, the ship has changed its course and approaches the boat carrying 95 people, giving out life jackets, drinking water and food. The ship stays next to the boat while it awaits instructions from RCC Malta. “Monitor the situation,” says the Maltese Armed Forces. “We are on our way”. Actually, it will be another six hours before anything happens. What they were actually trying to do until the very last moment was deliver the refugees into the hands of their Libyan torturers. Ultimately, a little after 6 a.m. on Monday, a Maltese patrol boat arrived on the scene and rescued the occupants of the wooden boat. 

 

By the afternoon, they disembarked at La Valetta. They are finally in a “safe port” in Europe. They will have the possibility to build a different future for themselves- far from the persecutions they endured in their homeland, far from the dangers of their long voyage and far from the horrors they suffered in Libya.

 

Why was there so much unnecessary suffering caused by leaving them at sea for forty-eight hours? Why did European governments and authorities fail to provide assistance so many times? Why is there a “double system” with rapid intercept and capture operated by the Libyan patrol boats on one side and silence and neglect in the Maltese SAR area on the other? 

Why is there such determination in defending an invisible, yet deadly, fluid border?

Why use European funds and collaboration to try and transform the Libyan militia into a contracted border police force? Why are the SAR areas in international waters treated as if they are within sovereign state territory? How is this possible when these areas fall under the current SAR Convention of Hamburg 1979 that clearly states there is a shared responsibility between the authorities from adjoining states, such as Italy?

 

As seen with the two cases above, these questions were answered by a broad civil society alliance capable of breaking through the regime’s grip over the deadly border

We did it. We were successful. We will continue to do it. 

This is the reason we are trying to return to our mission at sea with the ship Mare Jonio as quickly as possible. 

 

Because without a European “civil fleet” at sea,  governments’ criminal decisions would go unchecked and the courage of migrant women and men would be  tragically left  alone.

News (EN)

Rescued but not safe! Europe plays games with 52 lives!

Call out to stand in solidarity with the rescued and the crew of TALIA and demand a port of safety, either in Malta or Italy!


Yesterday morning, 52 people in distress at sea reached out to Alarm Phone. They were in the Maltese Search and Rescue (SAR) zone. RCC Malta was informed immediately by Alarm Phone but remained uncooperative, hanging up the phone repeatedly without noting down crucial information about the boat in distress. In the end, it was the merchant vessel TALIA (IMO: 7910888, MMSI: 450569000, under the flag of Lebanon) that conducted the rescue in the Maltese SAR zone (at position 34°42N 013°09E) in the late evening of 3 July, after Sea-Watch’s Seabird had alerted them to the case.

RCC Malta had promised to TALIA to trans-ship the rescued onto Armed Forces of Malta vessels and to disembark them in Malta. This, however, did not happen. TALIA was asked instead to move toward Lampedusa but Italy also denied the merchant vessel to enter Italian territorial waters!

Italy then instructed TALIA to move towards Malta, which it did, but RCC Malta denied the merchant vessel to enter Maltese territorial waters. Therefore people and crew are still urgently looking for a place of safety to disembark.

This lack of cooperation between States is in complete violation with the essence of instruments such as the SAR Convention: it put lives at risks and discourages rescue operations.

In light of this irresponsibility of Maltese and Italian authorities, the TALIA turned to Alarm Phone and the Civil Fleet for support and guidance.

The TALIA acted according to maritime law by rescuing the people in distress and offering them shelter. The livestock carrier interrupted its trajectory in order to carry out a SAR operation – they need a solution immediately. The health situation of the people on board is currently deteriorating, several people are in critical condition.

We call out to stand in solidarity with the rescued and the crew of TALIA and demand a port of safety, either in Malta or Italy. It is the responsibility and duty of these authorities to coordinate a port of safety. These games with people who just survived a Mediterranean crossing have to stop immediately! Let them in!

Alarm Phone, Sea-Watch & Mediterranea

Addresses to contact and demand a place of safety for the rescued people now:

Prime Minister Dr Robert Abela MP

Address: Office of the Prime Minister, Auberge de Castille Valletta VLT 1061

Email: [email protected] Tel: +356 2200 2400

Minister for European and Foreign Affairs

E-mail: [email protected], [email protected]

Rescued but not safe! Europe plays games with 52 lives!

News (EN)

From Syria to the Central Mediterranean: their story – 43 people rescued

The story of the Syrian family we have onboard now. Father, mother and two children. 

His name is M. from Syria (name is changed for security reasons). 

“We are from Syria, but life is impossible there. 

I have two sons and even the schools are not safe. They are a target for bombs. Sometimes armed men on motorcycles pass by and spread bullets to the windows of the schools. We were living in Damascus, when we had to escape as soon as possible. They were fights, kidnappings, people disappearing on daily basis. I sold my house for nothing and run away. 

The day we left, many people were killed including the uncle of my wife. Many friends of mine were killed. 

We arrived in Libya, where life was quiet for a period, and I started working in construction sites. 

But soon, another war knocked on our door. The war in Libya is more fierce than ever. We had to flee again. My children cannot walk on the streets.  There is no hospitals, or doctors. Everyday we hear about people getting killed. 

It’s a total chaos in Libya. Different armies, different militias fighting each other. 

We had to flee again. This time there was only one road open. That of the sea.

It was a dark night when the Libyans transfered us to a beach and ordered us to board this small fiberglass boat of 5 meters. I thought we would be 10-15 people but we were 43! It was impossible to travel like this. 

The Libyans stacked us like animals and pushed us out in the sea under the threat of guns. They gave us a compass and said “just go north”. 

Nobody knew how to drive, we were driving in shifts. As a result, we were doing a lot of zig-zags and we spent 2 days at sea without any sign of hope. The waves were big, the boat was extremely overloaded and the water was getting in. I thought “this is the end”. 

All the people cut plastic bottles and started taking the water out of the boat.

And this is where you found us. I will never forget that day and will thank you eternally for this. 

We just want to feel safe. We dont want to live in war, we want schools, education and a safe environment for my children. 

The only way to achieve this is to get on that boat from Libya and cross hundreds of miles of open sea with my family.”

News (EN)

93 people rejected including one woman who gave birth, 6 dead. It’s yesterday’s story, June 26th.

12.22 PM, June 26 2020

Mediterranea Saving Humans’ Mare Jonio ship, currently on patrol in the Central Mediterranean, received a mayday message at 12:22 p.m. today, sent by Alarm Phone to all authorities competent for the area. The mayday message mentioned a black dinghy in distress, carrying about 95 passengers, including 8 children and 20 women, one of whom apparently gave birth during navigation. They left at 11:30pm from Al Khoms, Lybia. They are currently 50 miles east of Misurata, adrift with a broken engine, about 80 miles from our current position.

The Mare Jonio immediately offered to intervene, and is currently heading in that direction at full speed.

We have also realised that the military ships of Eunavformed’s Operation IRINI are operating in the area closest to the dinghy. We have therefore written to MRCC Rome and Eunavformed HQ, asking for these European military ships to intervene urgently, in order to save the lives of these 95 people, and prevent them from being deported back to the Libyan hell they are trying to escape. We emphatically demand this to the Italian Government and the European institutions.


h 9.00 PM, June 26 2020
 
Statement of Alessandra Sciurba – President of Mediterranea Saving Humans 

“We can see on our radar on the Mare Jonio that the Libyans have gotten really close to the dinghy in distress, carrying 90 people on board.Soon, dozens of people, including a newborn baby, will be captured and taken back to the Libyan torture camps, with the full responsibility of Italy, which launched the distress signal, but did not intervene after doing so.

We immediately headed to the coordinates of the dinghy reported by Watch The Med – Alarm Phone but we are still too far away. Meanwhile, once again, a crime against humanity is about to be committed, financed by Italian citizens through the country’s funding of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard”.


11.18 PM, June 26, 2020

A patrol boat of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard intercepted and captured “over 70 people” including women and young children on board the dinghy reported by Watch The Med – alarm Phone 52 miles northeast of Misrata.

Our ship Mare Jonio, which was only a few miles away, offered to embark the shipwrecked people onto a safer asset, which could guarantee adequate medical care. The Libyan militias refused.

The command of the Libyan patrol boat refused to provide any information about the presence of eight dead people and a woman who allegedly gave birth on board, as the shipwrecked people had previously reported.

Once again, the money and means provided by Italy to Libya, along with the cooperation of other European governments, have led to the deportation of refugees to a country at war.


9 AM, June 27, 2020
Safa Msehli (Spokesperson and Communications Officer IOM UN Migration Geneva) confirms by Twitter: Last night, a woman gave birth on a rubber dinghy floating in the Mediterranean. She was among 93 migrants, intercepted and returned to Libya. Another 6 migrants were reported to have died.
News (EN)

The Mare Jonio saved 67 shipwrecked people.

June, Saturday 20

Central Mediterranean


On the instructions of the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC of Rome), our ship Mare Jonio is now heading towards the port of Pozzallo, after having rescued 67 people last night who were adrift, at risk of shipwreck, 48 miles from Lampedusa. 

These have been difficult days, when we have seen with our own eyes violence and death crossing the Mediterranean. We are now asking that the refugees that we have managed to bring to safety, who have been tried by the terrible conditions of detention in Libya and the long period at sea, be able to land without hesitation. We are also calling for the same for the 211 people rescued by Sea Watch.

We are calling for our ships to be able to go back at sea as soon as possible, because now there is no one left out there to bring help, while every day children, women and men drown in silence or are captured by Libyan militias and returned to the horrors from which they were trying to escape.

We thank our sea and land crews, who once again allowed us to be where we needed to be and where we need to be again.

Every day that a civil society ship has to spend at the dock is a day when more lives are at risk of being lost.

News (EN)

Mare Jonio was a direct eyewitness of yet another pushback of migrants towards war and torture

A Libyan militia intercepted a rubber dinghy, in distress a few miles from the location of Mare Jonio, Mediterranea Saving Humans’ ship. The militia captured and took back the survivors.


Mare Jonio (ship) -June 17, 2020- While we celebrate the rescue of children, women and men by Sea Watch3, just a few hours ago, we are also indignant that others were captured, just at the same time, by the Libyan Coast Guard, and brought back to hell, in front of our eyes.

Today, during Mediterranea’s monitoring activities of search and rescue in the SAR zone, close to our location, Libyan authorities carried out yet another crime, a crime financed by Italy, with the European Union’s support. At 1:27pm, Mare Jonio’s radar picked up a signal coming from a vessel that was moving westwards at high speed (over 20 knots), possibly coming from Tripoli, and crossing our patrol route at northwest. Our radar showed us that this vessel was directed at another vessel that was almost stationary, and in obvious distress, on 33 38N 13 35E.

We continued to listen to radio channel vhf 16, which is always open to this type of communication. The Libyans, however, did not communicate anything. Unfortunately, at 2:04pm, the speedboat had reached its target, just 10 nautical miles away from us. When they left, 20 minutes later, we were just 6 miles away from the location, close enough to see who it was very clearly, with our binoculars.

Powerless, we witnessed the intervention of the Libyan militiamen on speed boats donated by our own country, perhaps remotely directed from the Frontex call-sign Osprey3 plane, departed at 5:22 am this morning from Malta’s Luqa Airport: in violation of every international convention, they pushed back dozens of refugees back to the bombs and torture they were trying to escape.

Upon arriving at the location where their meager vessel had been intercepted, we only found its relict – a grey rubber dinghy, its inner tubes damaged and deflated. As always, the engine had already been taken: things and people, sold, in the very same way.

We will continue our mission, monitoring and reporting violations such as this one, in a sea turned into a theater of death and shame by European governments.

News (EN)

Phase two in the Central Mediterranean: Italy shall respect and enforce human rights for everyone

Monday 4 May 2020

Mediterranea Saving Humans demands the Italian Government to disembark the 78 people aboard of the ship “Marina” and to give the answers that the island of Lampedusa has been waiting for too long.

In recent days, we have helped unravel the inhuman and illegal practices of deportation of women, men and children fleeing from the Libyan hell through the Mediterranean Sea. We helped to uncover the responsibilities of the Maltese government, and prevented hundreds of human beings from suffering the same fate of the 12 people who died on Easter, or the 51 people returned to the Libyan jailers. All that is also responsibility of Italy, who has been delaying the rescue operations with the alibi of the SAR areas of competence, when the requests for help came from just a few tens of miles from its shores. It is no longer acceptable for the Italian government to play the criminal game of formalities when it comes to save human lives.

Even if it means going in the international waters of the Maltese SAR area, Italy cannot stand by while crimes such as inaction to request of help or deportation to Libya are being committed. Italy and the whole European Union cannot be complicit in all that.

We ask that Italy will immediately accept the 78 people rescued by the merchant ship “Marina” that has been waiting for the assignment of a safe harbor for days now.

We ask that the Italian government will deal first with safeguarding human lives and then with eventual political-diplomatic litigation with Malta.

We loudly raise our voice to ask that Italy will focus on Human Rights, on the International Conventions about sea rescue and on the Right of Asylum, and that will be the first Country to practice that very same solidarity that is demanding to Europe for itself.

We ask that no negotiations on relocation will take place for anyone who flees from torture and war and who is saved from death at sea. Refugees shall not become political hostages. 

We ask that the difficult situation on the island of Lampedusa, with a small and overcrowded hotspot and tens of migrants forced to stay in unacceptable conditions on the dock, will be addressed and resolved with effective and rational solutions. Both the inhabitants of the island and the rescued people need to be offered dignity and measures to prevent and combat contagion.

We ask that Lampedusa will not be left alone, or transformed into a stage to show to the media, to then justify ports closed to all who have the right of law to be welcomed.

We ask all of that to the Italian government because, in order not to become inhuman like others, humanity must be practiced with concrete actions, not described in words and then denied by facts.

News (EN)

Sabotage, Delays and Non-Assistance: Another day in Malta’s SAR zone – Alarm Phone

ALARM PHONE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE DISTRESS CASE WHERE A BOAT WITH 66 PEOPLE ON BOARD WAS ALLEGEDLY SABOTAGED BY THE ARMED FORCES OF MALTA (8-10 APRIL 2020)

In light of an ongoing enquiry against members of the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) for sabotaging the engine of a boat in distress in the Maltese Search and Rescue (SAR) zone, this Alarm Phone report seeks to provide a detailed account of the distress case that reached us in the early hours of 8 April 2020. We offer a timeline of events that took place between 8-10 April, as well as transcripts of two phone calls in which the 66 people in distress informed us that the AFM had sabotaged their engine and that they were watching but failing to rescue them.

Despite being informed about this boat in distress many times by phone and email, and despite receiving regular GPS positions from the Alarm Phone, the AFM failed to rescue the 66 people for about 40 hours. Instead of rescuing, they were merely observing the people in need through aerial assets. In this way, the suffering of the people at risk was unnecessarily prolonged, and their lives were placed in greater danger. Overcrowded and unstable boats in distress can easily capsize at any time and any delay in rescue can end in casualties, as proven by the 12 deaths that occurred just days later in the Maltese SAR zone in the context of the illegal push-back of 51 survivors to war and torture in Libya.

In addition to the failure to render immediate assistance and to rescue the people in distress in the Maltese SAR zone, the AFM are said to have actively sabotaged the migrant boat. While the AFM later argued that the cutting of a cable to the boat’s engine was a “standard procedure” during a SAR operation, the testimonies of the people in distress, as well as the timeline of events, proves that this was not the case. The first task of a rescuer is to calm people down, as panic on board can be extremely dangerous both for the rescued and for the rescuers. The fact that the AFM threatened the people in distress, verbally and physically, suggests that their aim was not to rescue the boat.

While the boat was in distress off its coast, Malta closed its harbours by declaring Malta ‘unsafe’ due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Paradoxically, and hypocritically, the closed ports policy was justified also as a way to protect the health and safety of migrants who, so the argument, would be spared the risk to their lives by preventing them from crossing the Mediterranean Sea. This ‘public health’ justificationignores not only the devastating conditions in Libya, a warzone in which migrants experience systematic forms of torture, abuse, and indiscriminate detention, but also grotesquely led to increased suffering and loss of life within the Maltese SAR zone.

In this report, we show in painstaking detail in what ways, and how often, Alarm Phone sought to mobilise rescue by alerting the Maltese authorities. In total, Alarm Phone reached out to RCC Malta 42 times: 34 times via the phone, though getting through only 11 times (mostly without receiving any information), and eight times via email. Moreover, we provide a full account of the testimonies received by the people in distress, which provide evidence to counter the dominant narrative provided by the AFM on the events.

Despite trying to portray the current situation as “exceptional” due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and thereby trying to justify the drastic border enforcement measures that have already cost lives, it is not only during the most recent period that RCC Malta and the AFM have seriously endangered lives at risk at sea.1 As we will show in a forthcoming report, the AFM has a track-record of practices of non-assistance, delayed rescues, and push-back operations at sea, thereby seriously violating human rights, maritime law, and international refugee conventions.

TIMELINE OF A DISTRESS CASE – 08-10 APRIL 2020

APRIL 8

At 03.00h CEST, Alarm Phone received a distress call from 66 people in international waters (N 34°12’, E013°55’), close to the Maltese Search and Rescue (SAR) zone. After this call, Alarm Phone lost contact to the people in distress for the following 14 hours. Several times, Alarm Phone called MRCC Rome and RCC Malta to relay the distress case. While MRCC Rome took note of the details, RCC Malta was not reachable on all three emergency numbers (+35621257267, +35621809279 and +35622494202).

At 05.32h, Alarm Phone informed RCC Malta and MRCC Rome via email, without response. The first direct contact with RCC Malta was at 05.47h CEST, when the officer stated that the boat was located in the Libyan SAR. Alarm Phone clarified that contact had been lost with the people in distress so that the boat could have reached the Maltese SAR zone in the meantime.

At 11.42h, Alarm Phone was able to reach an officer of the so-called Libyan coastguard (scLYCG), Commodore Masoud Abdalsamad, on the phone, who stated that the scLYCG would need two hours to obtain Covid-protection equipment before launching an operation.

At 13.07h, Alarm Phone sent a second email to RCC Malta, asking for updates on any rescue activities – the email remained unanswered.

At 13.17h, Alarm Phone called MRCC Rome who stated that they were not responsible for rescuing this boat in distress.

At 17.31h, the people in distress reached out to Alarm Phone again and shared a GPS position that showed them within the Maltese SAR Zone (34°48’N, 013°27’E). They said that they had been at sea for four days, that they were embarking water, and that their engine was not working properly. They reported that they were in a dangerous situation and they asked for immediate help. The people in distress also informed Alarm Phone that a Maltese vessel, the P51, had approached them, telling them to leave Maltese waters.

At 18.17h, Alarm Phone informed RCC Malta via email about the urgency of the situation and relayed the updated GPS position of the boat in distress.

At 18.17h, Alarm Phone spoke to the people in distress for the third time. Once more, they asked for urgent rescue as water was in the boat. They also reported that they had received a call to their satellite phone from a number with the Maltese country code.

At 18.31h and at 18.40h, Alarm Phone tried to get through to RCC Malta, using three different numbers – but in vain.

At 21:07h, a helicopter of the AFM, AW139 (Maritime AIS: SAR 2281), went to the location of the boat in distress, according to tracking data reported by the journalist Sergio Scandura. According to the tracking platform Vessel Finder, it returned at around 23:00h. A second aircraft of the AFM (B200 AS1731) was documented as moving in direction south-west at 20:34h for a mission that lasted for 129 minutes.

Again, from 23.40h on, Alarm Phone tried to reach RCC Malta on the phone several times, but without success.

APRIL 9

At 00.16h, Alarm Phone asked RCC Malta and MRCC Rome once more via email to immediately launch a rescue operation.

At 00.27h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta on all 3 numbers, without success.

At 00.36h, Alarm Phone called MRCC Rome and they confirmed that they had received our email on this distress case but declined to provide further information.

At 03:50h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta several times and on different numbers but in vain.

Over several hours, Alarm Phone tried to re-connect with the people in distress but was unable to get through to them.

At 09.55h, the people in distress tried to reach out to Alarm Phone twice, but due to the bad connection it was not possible to communicate.

At 10.10h, the people in distress called Alarm Phone again. This time, we were able to communicate. They passed on a new, but incomplete, GPS position: N35°33.642 E°14.11 (the 11 is unclear). They confirmed that their engine was still running.

At 10.43h, Alarm Phone forwarded the updated GPS position to RCC Malta and MRCC Rome via email. During phone calls with RCC Malta (11.08h) and MRCC Rome (11.24h), both confirmed that they had received the e-mail and the updated GPS position, but declined to provide further information on their intention, or lack thereof, to launch a SAR operation.

At 14.16h, Alarm Phone reached RCC Malta on the phone, and the officer said: “The policy of Malta because of Corona is that nothing can leave Malta and nothing can enter Malta and this includes migrants.” When reminded of their duty to rescue people in distress at sea, the officer responded that they were investigating the case as they would investigate all cases.

At 17.34h, the people in distress reached out to Alarm Phone, stating that they had been at sea for five days. They shared their updated GPS position, which showed them 17 nautical miles off the Maltese coast (35° 39’N, 014° 13’E). They reported that their engine was not working, that they had almost run out of fuel and that they were embarking water. The people in distress also said that they had contacted the Armed Forces of Malta through their satellite phone to inform them of their dangerous situation and to ask for rescue. They said that the Armed Forces of Malta told them to continue by themselves.

A few minutes later, at 17.38h, the people in distress reached out to Alarm Phone once more and reported that a Maltese military ship had cut the cord to their engine and had told them to die at sea.

Here we provide excerpts of their testimony to Alarm Phone, which we recorded:

Alarm Phone: “Hello, this is WatchTheMed Alarm Phone.”

Person on Boat: “Hello, hello, yesterday I call you. [Inaudible]. We need your help, we need your help. We have emergency Sir, we have emergency Sir. Now I see Malta, I see Malta. [Inaudible]. The Malta military, the Malta military is coming and cut the cable of electricity for the motor. And the Malta military knows that the water is in the boat right now, right now. He says, not that anybody come to Malta. He said that. And when he moved, he said I leave you, I leave you die in the water but nobody come to Malta. I will give you the location, my location, the location by GPS. [Inaudible]. Please please someone call help us.”

Alarm Phone: “What is our location right now?”

Person on Boat: “Okay okay yes. Hello Sir? North 35 degree, 39.454, East 014 degree, 12.817.”

Immediately after this call, at 17.45h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta, but the officer refused to copy the new GPS position of the boat in distress and hung up. Alarm Phone tried to reach RCC Malta again several times, but the calls were put on hold.

At 18.00h, the people in distress reached out to Alarm Phone. We told them that we were still trying to organise help for them.

At 18.02h, Alarm Phone sent e-mails to RCC Malta and MRCC Rome to provide the updated GPS position and to urge them to rescue immediately. Soon after, at 18.10h, RCC Malta confirmed on the phone that they had received this email and that they were investigating the case.

At 18.27h, Alarm Phone received yet another call from the people in distress, who were in panic and reported that they could see two Maltese military ships (including AFM vessel P52). They confirmed once more that the military had sabotaged their engine, and that they were trying to take away their phone.

Here we provide the full transcript of their testimony to Alarm Phone, which we recorded:

Alarm Phone: “Hello, this is WatchTheMed Alarm Phone.”

Person on Boat: “Hello hello Sir, please take this number. The military of Malta want to take my phone.”

Alarm Phone: “They want to take your phone?”

Person on Boat: “Please help us, please help us. I call you one more time. Please help us, please help us. We will die, we will die in the water. Hello?”

Alarm Phone: “Yes, I can hear you, we are recording okay?”

Person on Boat: “Take this number, please, take this number and send ship to help us, please, come on.”

Alarm Phone: “Can you tell me the number of the ship that you see. Is it P51?”

Person on Boat: “[Inaudible]. You send someone to help us?”

Alarm Phone: “Can you tell us the number of the ship that you see, the military ship?”

Person on Boat: “Ok Ok [Inaudible]. Please, we will die, we will die in Maltese water.”

Alarm Phone: “We gave your position to the Maltese coastguards.”

Person on Boat: “Ok, the Malta military is [near?] us. The number P52. Please. We will die, we will die.”

Alarm Phone: “Your engine is no longer running, right?”

Person on Boat: “Ok, ok, the cable of motor, the Malta military cut the cable. Now now we have 5 days in the water and water in the boat right now. Please some of you help us. Please.”

Alarm Phone: “One more question, how far away, how far away is the military from you? How far away is the military boat?”

Person on Boat: “Ehm, ok, I don’t know but I see there two ships, two ships military of Malta. P52 and I don’t know the number of the other one.”

Alarm Phone: “Ok, does it look the same? Do the two ships look the same?”

Person on Boat: “Ok, we wanna help, we wanna help, we wanna help. We need your help, please, we will die.”

Alarm Phone: “Do the two ships look the same. Are they the same ship?”

Person on Boat: “Any any any ship will help us send to Europe, not back to Libya. Please please help us. Okay take this is the number of location.”

Alarm Phone: “The military ship. The military ship.”

Person on Boat: “Alan Kurdi or Sea-Watch or any ship. Please we want a life. North… north…”

Alarm Phone: “Can you please tell me if the two ships, do they look the same? The military ship?”

Person on Boat: “Okay okay okay, take this location… North 35 degree, 35.423.”

Alarm Phone: “35.423.”

Person on Boat: “Yes, again. North 35 degree, 35.423.”

Alarm Phone: “East? East?”

Person on Boat: “014 degree, 13.067.”

Alarm Phone: “014 degree, 13.067.”

Person on Boat: “Yeah yeah. The military of Malta [inaudible] my phone. Please, this, this.”

Alarm Phone: “Please keep your phone.”

Person on Boat: “Ok, send send send send anything. Please. Please help us, please help us.”

Alarm Phone: “We will try. We already alerted the Malta coastguard. Okay.”

Person on Boat: “[Inaudible]. You can you can say that… The military of Malta steals us. Okay?”

Alarm Phone: “One more question, okay? There are two ships. Two ships. Malta. Okay?”

Person on boat: “Please hurry up.”

This was the last call we had with the people in distress.

Last GPS position

GPS POSITION OF THE BOAT IN DISTRESS, AT THE TIME OF THE SABOTAGE

At 19.00h, Alarm Phone sent an e-mail to RCC Malta and to UNHCR Malta, reporting that according to the testimony of the people in distress, a Maltese military vessel had approached the boat in distress and sabotaged their engine, telling them that they would let them die at sea. In this email, Alarm Phone expressed concerns about the events and requested immediate clarification as well as urgent rescue.

At 19.08h, Alarm Phone tweeted: “They called again saying: “Please help us! We will die. We will die in the water. We will die in Maltese waters. The Malta military ship number is P52, the number of the ship. Please we will die. Now we are 5 days in the water and the water is in the boat now. Please help.”

At 19.47h, Alarm Phone received a phone call from an officer of RCC Malta. The officer claimed that the boat Alarm Phone had alerted RCC Malta to was not in distress and said that it is not in the capacity of the Alarm Phone to decide whether or not a boat is in distress. The officer stated that all Maltese ports were closed and that, by law, no one would enter or exit Malta. The officer also stated that anyone entering Malta illegally would be brought to detention for breaking the law. Asked by Alarm Phone what would happen to any boat in distress, the officer said that they would not need to inform us about procedures.

At 20.25h, Alarm Phone tweeted: “We cannot reach the people in distress anymore. We hope this is a sign that public pressure worked & Malta was forced to take them aboard. Malta’s AFM vessel P51 had approached this boat already yesterday but disappeared, as the migrants reported at 17.32h CEST on 08/04.” And shortly after we tweeted: “The Armed Forces of Malta did not react to our pleas for rescue. The migrants survived another night at sea and moved closer to Malta. We could reach them only tonight again when they reported of the attack at sea. They state that two military vessels were nearby.”

At 21.13h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta once more, but the officer declined to provide any information on the situation.

Around 21.15h, the Maltese Government released a press release declaring that “the Maltese authorities are not in a position to guarantee the rescue of prohibited immigrants on board of any boats, ships or other vessels, nor to ensure the availability of a “safe place” on the Maltese territory to any persons rescued at sea.”

At 22.13h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta once more. The officer declined again to provide information on the ongoing situation and was unable to contact the duty officer.

At 23.40h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta again. The officer stated that he did not have any information.

APRIL 10

At 00.58h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta. The officer said he would forward the call to the duty officer but then hung up the phone.

At 07.35h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta and received the information that a rescue of 66 people had been completed the evening before.

At 08.37h, Alarm Phone tweeted: “Finally, at 7.35h today, Malta confirmed to us that the people (66 in total) were disembarked at ~22.30h last night, ~41h after first alert. We call on Malta to stop non-assistance & attacks on people in distress! Do not use #Covid19 as excuse to violate fundamental human rights!”


[1] SOS: 110 people in Malta SAR need immediate rescue: https://alarmphone.org/en/2020/03/14/sos-110-people-in-malta-sar-need-immediate-rescue/

Non-Assistance, Delays, Interceptions, Refoulements. Central Mediterranean Regional Analysis. 1 October 2019 – 31 December 2019: https://alarmphone.org/en/2020/01/05/central-mediterranean-regional-analysis/

Back to the Libyan Warzone – How Malta Instructed Libyan Authorities to Intercept 50 Migrants within the Maltese SAR Zone: https://alarmphone.org/en/2019/10/23/back-to-the-libyan-warzone/?post_type_release_type=post

https://twitter.com/seawatch_intl/status/1215982102535200771?s=20

https://mediterranearescue.org/en/news-en/breaking-news-from-mare-jonio-engaged-in-patrolling-and-monitoring-operations-in-the-central-mediterranean/

News (EN)

Mediterranea Saving Humans warns Malta’s Authorities: “Immediately Place of safety for the 90 shipwrecked, no human rights violations”.

The President of Mediterranea Saving Humans, civil society organisation based in Italy, Alessandra Sciurba, sent an urgent letter to the Maltese authorities regarding the case of the wooden boat with supposed 90 people on board just rescued by the cargo ship “Marina”, under the coordination of the RCC of La Valletta. The letter is addressed to the Prime Minister of Malta Robert Abela and  also to the United Nations Special Rapporteurs for human rights, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe and the Italian authorities.
“In view of the recent cases in the last two weeks, one of which resulted in the illegal push-back of the shipwrecked people to a port in Libya, country from which they were fleeing, with this communication we formally ask You which measures You intend to take to safeguard the lives of these approx. 90 people at sea, rescueing and recovering them, and disembarking them in a safe European port, appropriate Place of Safety in accordance with international law”.
“We also warn You to take steps, such as ordering their transfer to a country at war, which may constitute serious violations of maritime and international law, in particular Article 33 of the Geneva Convention on the refugee status, and articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and that the repeated result of these violations  can constitute a crime against humanity”.
News (EN)

Latest Tactic to Push Migrants From Europe? A Private, Clandestine Fleet

The government of Malta enlisted three privately owned fishing trawlers to intercept migrants in the Mediterranean, and force them back to a war zone,  officials and a boat captain say.

By Patrick Kingsley and Haley Willis


April 30, 2020

With the onset of the coronavirus, Malta announced that it was too overwhelmed to rescue migrants making the precarious crossing of the Mediterranean Sea, where the tiny island nation has been on the front line of the maritime migration route over the past decade.

In secret, however, the Maltese authorities have worked hard to make sure no migrants actually reach the island.

It dispatched a small fleet of private merchant vessels in April to intercept migrants at sea and return them by force to a war zone in Libya, according to information provided by the captain of one of the boats, a senior commander in the Libyan Coast Guard, and a former Maltese official involved in the episode.

The three repurposed fishing trawlers are privately owned, but acted on the instructions of the Armed Forces of Malta, the captain and the others said.

The clandestine operation, which some experts consider illegal under international law, is just the latest dubious measure taken by European countries in recent years to stem the migration from Africa and the Middle East that has sown political chaos in Europe and fueled a populist backlash.

Since 2017, European states, led by Italy, have paid the Libyan government to return more migrants to Libya, hassled the private rescue organizations that try to bring them to Europe, and asked passing merchant vessels to intercept them before they enter European waters.

But Malta’s latest tactic may be among the most egregious, maritime experts say, because it involved a designated flotilla of private vessels, based in a European port, that intercepted and expelled asylum seekers from international waters that fall within the responsibility of European coast guards.

“Against a pattern of increased abuses against asylum seekers in recent years, this newest approach stands out,” said Itamar Mann, an expert in maritime and refugee law at the University of Haifa in Israel. “Its methods chillingly resemble organized crime, and indeed the operations of people smugglers, which European policymakers so adamantly denounce.”

“The facts available raise serious concerns that we are seeing the emergence of a novel systematic pattern, such that may even put Maltese state officials in danger of criminal liability, at home or abroad,” Dr. Mann added.

The Maltese government did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The activity was first documented on the evening of April 12, when three aging blue trawlers left the Grand Harbour in Valletta, the Maltese capital, within an hour of each other. The three boats — the Dar Al Salam 1, the Salve Regina and the Tremar — departed at the request of the Maltese authorities, according to the captain of the Tremar, Amer Abdelrazek.

A former Maltese official, Neville Gafa, said he was enlisted by the government that same night to use his connections in Libya to ensure the safe passage of the first two boats to Libya.

The boats did not submit paperwork to the immigration police, and switched off their satellite tracking devices soon after leaving port, maritime databases show.

But their mission had already been determined, said Mr. Gafa, who said he had been asked by the Maltese prime minister’s chief of staff, Clyde Caruana, to help coordinate the operation. Mr. Caruana did not respond to requests for comment, but a government spokesman told The Times of Malta that Mr. Gafa had been asked to liaise with Libya on a separate matter that was unconnected to the episode.

The trawlers were sent to intercept a migrant vessel attempting to reach Malta from Libya — and which had been issuing mayday calls for some 48 hours — and then return its passengers to Libya, Mr. Gafa said.

The stricken migrant vessel was still in international waters, according to coordinates provided by the migrants by satellite phone to Alarm Phone, an independent hotline for shipwrecked refugees. But it had reached the area of jurisdiction of Malta’s armed forces, making it Malta’s responsibility under international maritime law to rescue its passengers and provide them with sanctuary.

Two of the trawlers — the Dar Al Salam 1 and the Tremar — reached the migrant vessel early on April 14, guided by a Maltese military helicopter, Mr. Abdelrazek said. Several of the migrants had already drowned, according to testimony later gathered by Alarm Phone.

The roughly 50 survivors were taken aboard the Dar Al Salam 1, Mr. Abdelrazek said.

The Dar Al Salam 1 and the Salve Regina sailed to Tripoli on April 15, the former carrying the migrants and the latter carrying several tons of food and water, as a show of appreciation to the Libyan government, Mr. Abdelrazek and Mr. Gafa said. The Tremar waited in international waters, Mr. Abdelrazek said.

The Maltese authorities told their Libyan counterparts that the Dar Al Salam 1 was in fact a Maltese vessel called the Maria Cristina, said Commodore Masoud Abdalsamad, who oversees international operations at the Libyan Coast Guard. To further obscure its identity, the boat’s crew had also painted over the ship’s name and flew a Maltese flag to confuse the Libyan Coast Guard.

Though based physically in Malta and owned by a Maltese shipowner, the vessel is legally registered in Tobruk, a port in east Libya controlled by opponents of the authorities in Tripoli. The crew did not want to risk upsetting the Tripoli government by broadcasting its links to Tobruk, leading it to hide its name and home port, Mr. Abdelrazek said.

After disembarking, the migrants were taken to a notorious detention center run by a pro-government militia, where migrants are routinely tortured, held for ransom or sold to other militias. The detention cells stand close to an arms depot, and the surrounding area was hit by shelling in December.

Conditions at the detention center are “utterly appalling,” said Safa Msehli, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration, an arm of the United Nations. “People are caged in overcrowded hangars with barely any access to food or sanitation facilities.”

“Many tell us of the abuse they endure and the inhumane ways in which they are exploited,’’ Ms. Msehli added. ‘‘Reports of migrants being used to load weapons, and the detention center’s proximity to a military facility, raise serious concerns over the safety of people detained there arbitrarily.”

After departing Tripoli, the Dar Al Salam 1 turned its satellite identification system back on, and the boat resurfaced off the coast of Libya on the evening of April 15, data provided by Marine Traffic, a maritime database, shows.

The owner of the Salve Regina, Dominic Tanti, declined to comment through an intermediary, and the owner of the Tremar, Yasser Aziz, did not return a message seeking comment.

The owner of the Dar Al Salam 1, Carmelo Grech, did not to respond to multiple requests for comment sent by text, voice message and a letter hand-delivered to his apartment. But he has confirmed his boat’s involvement to a Maltese newspaper, and several outlets have already highlighted its role, including the Italian newspaper, Avvenire, and the Maltese blogger Manuel Delia.

Mr. Grech and his boat have colorful histories, raising questions in Malta about why the government involved them in a state-led operation.

Mr. Grech has previously recounted how he used the boat, then known as the Mae Yemanja, to bring supplies to Libyan rebels during the Libyan revolution in 2011. In 2012, court records show it was impounded after Mr. Grech was accused, though later acquitted, of smuggling contraband cigarettes from Libya to Malta.

In 2015, Mr. Grech was detained by a Libyan faction for several days for what he later described as a misunderstanding over his visas.

Maltese ship records obtained by The Times show that Mr. Grech canceled his boat’s registration in Malta last February, before repainting it to show it had been re-registered in Tobruk, for undisclosed reasons.

Mr. Abdelrazek also has a criminal history, having been convicted in 2014 of forging documents, court records show.

After appearing briefly in Malta last week, the Dar Al Salam 1 and the Salve Regina returned again to sea on Sunday.

Their satellite trackers were once again switched off shortly afterward.

Patrick Kingsley reported from Berlin, and Haley Willis from New York. Reporting was contributed by Karam Shoumali from Berlin, Jon Borg from Valletta, Malta, and Christoph Koettl from New York. Marc Tilley contributed research from Marseilles, France.