So you don’t take responsibility for saving them? Yesterday an inflatable boat with 27 people in trouble was issued with a delay of 9 hours.
In the night between Thursday 8 and Friday 9 November about 150 people landed on the island of Lampedusa: among all these people there’s a black boat with 27 people on board, 8 of whom are women and 6 children.
More specifically, this boat was followed by Mare Jonio, which left at 17:10 from the port of Lampedusa in a south-easterly direction to continue its monitoring and reporting in the SAR area of Malta and in that controlled by the Libyan forces.
At 19:30 MaltaRadio sent a NavTex message indicating a “rubber boat with approx 30 persons on board in position 34°19 N 012°10 E” heading north (360° course) at a speed of 5 knots: an inflatable boat with about 30 people on board, which, according to these coordinates, was more than 70 miles from Lampedusa.
In response to this report, Mare Jonio changed its course towards 220° South-West to approach the target are, informing MRCC Malta of its position and its availability to cooperate with the Maltese authorities for any rescue operations.
At 9:40 p.m., MRCC Malta nervously communicated by e-mail that “the case was closed”. At this point, the Mare Jonio asked for further information, asking whether the Maltese Armed Forces (AFM) or Coast Guard had already recovered the people on board, or whether the case was closed for other reasons. At 22:10 Malta replied that the boat had reached alone the territorial waters of Lampedusa.
How was that possible? How could it be the same boat that at 19.30 had been reported at about 14 hours of navigation from the Italian island?
All these communications between the ship Mediterranea Saving Humans and the Maltese authorities were shared with MRCC Rome, as the coordination center of the flag of Mare Jonio.
At 22:23 Mare Jonio was calling the MRCC operations centre in Rome and at 22:52 he wrote directly by e-mail to MRCC Roma, asking for explanations on the developments of the case, stating that the times and positions communicated by Malta at 19:30 and 22:10 were incompatible if referred to the same boat. Mare Jonio then asked Rome “for further information, in your possession, on the current position and condition of the rubber boat and its approx 30 occupants, in order to ensure our cooperation in any necessary SAR operations. Did you take charge of the event in question? Do you have instructions to give us in this regard?”.
At 22:56 WatchTheMed-AlarmPhone notified by e-mail a Thuraya satellite phone call that started directly from a vessel in trouble, whose characteristics corresponded perfectly to those described in the first NavTex report of MaltaRadio for the boat with about 30 people on board. This communication also indicated the presence of 8 women and 6 children. The position of the boat was now determined by GPS at 35°22’18 N 012°19’04 E, or about 13 miles south of the island of Lampedusa.
At 11:23 p.m., after checking its position and any possible operational scenarios, Mare Jonio informed everyone that it was 42 miles southwest of the position indicated by WatchTheMed -AlarmPhone, and could therefore only take action after about 4 hours of estimated navigation.
While the previously-sent e-mail did not receive any response, MRCC Rome contacted the Mare Jonio by satellite phone, stating that the NavTex alert corresponded to a position reported to both MRCC Malta and MRCC Rome not at 19:30, but at 10:30 in the morning. Apparently, the Maltese and Italian authorities had not coordinated within those 9 hours and had not issued any warning for the entire period of time.
In the phone call on board, we insisted with Rome on the need for the Italian Coast Guard to intervene from Lampedusa, given the difficult situation of the boat. We were guaranteed that this would be done.
At 8:10 this morning our sources from Lampedusa confirmed the arrival of the boat in port, which took place during the night following the intervention of the Italian Coast Guard, and the good health of all people on board.
Of course we are happy to know that the people on the boat, including six children, were rescued in the port of Lampedusa. But too many inconsistencies mark the events of tonight, as it has already happened on many other occasions where we have been able to verify for the mere fact of being at sea.
It is not the first time that we have seen that Navtex messages are being sent out by the competent authorities, particularly the Maltese authorities, with considerable delay, and we wonder what the reasons may be for a State to put in such a way the lives of children, women and men at risk, hoping that this is not a way of circumventing its obligations to intervene at sea, waiting for the vessels to be practically outside the area of search and rescue under its jurisdiction before reporting their presence.
The certainty is that of a period of 9 hours in which authorities in EU countries had counted a boat in danger with dozens of people on board and have not reported it or have prepared rescue operations.An irresponsible and illegitimate behaviour (since it is a legal obligation to report boats in distress on channels that can reach anyone in that area of the sea).
How many other times has it happened? And are we sure that in other similar episodes there have not been deaths of which no one has spoken? Have the European countries really chosen to pay this price in order to relieve themselves of their responsibility for their rescue and recovery duties?
Are we really ready to let six children drown in order to continue proclaiming the defence of the Europe’s borders, without understanding that with the drowning of these people drowns every time even the best part of ourselves and our history?
Mare Jonio continues its navigation in the central Mediterranean, continuing its work of monitoring and reporting. On behalf of all the people who still believe that there is a chance of salvation, for all of us.
Central Mediterranean, 9 November 2018