Published by Mediterranea's board | 05 / Apr / 2024

Criminals against humanity

The ship MARE JONIO rescues 56 people despite a gun attack by the so-called Libyan coast guard.Disembarkation in Pozzallo of MEDITERRANEA Saving Humans Mission 16 has concluded.

"The policies of the Italian governments and European institutions have turned the central Mediterranean into a war zone. - Denny Castiglione, head of mission of MEDITERRANEANEA Saving Humans on board the ship MARE JONIO, comments on the events of the last 24 hours - It is extremely serious that the militias of the so-called Libyan coast guard have fired gunshots directly at the shipwrecked people in the water and the rescuers. These are criminals against humanity."

At 3 p.m. today - Friday, 5 April 2024 - the MARE JONIO, landed in the port of Pozzallo (Ragusa), assigned by the Italian Authorities for the disembarkation of the 56 people rescued yesterday in international waters, who were the target, together with the ship's crew, of the violent intervention of a Libyan patrol boat around 5 p.m. on 4 April.

The head of mission Denny Castiglione

But let us go to the precise reconstruction of the facts.

The MARE JONIO departed from the port of Siracusa on Wednesday evening, 3 April, for its sixteenth observation and rescue mission in the central Mediterranean, setting course in the early hours of dawn on Thursday 4 towards the SAR zone where the so-called "Libyan authorities" operate. At 13:45 and 15:16 we received by e-mail communications from ALARM PHONE reporting a boat in distress with engine failure and about fifty people on board, adrift in international waters, 90 miles south of the island of Malta and 95 miles north of the Libyan town of Al-Khoms.

At 3:57 p.m. we listened to radio communications on VHF channel 16 from an air asset, later identified by us as aircraft AS1227 BE20 Icao: 4D206A of the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM), which launched may-day-relays of at least three cases, providing updated coordinates of the vessel in distress in position 34°18 N - 014°09 E. Despite repeated attempts to make contact, the aircraft did not respond to our calls.

At 4:26 p.m. the MARE JONIO informed the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (IT MRCC in Rome) that we would be heading to the indicated position to verify the situation of the vessel in distress.

The Libyan patrol vessel 658 "Fezzan"

At 4:35 p.m. we spotted the boat in distress through binoculars and approached to check the situation. It was a fibreglass boat, overcrowded with people without any personal safety equipment, adrift with a broken-down engine and at imminent risk of sinking. Our Rescue Team therefore proceeded to distribute life vests to each person on board.

During these initial assistance activities, however, a Libyan patrol boat arrived at high speed. It was the 658 'Fezzan', one of the Corrubia class, formerly assets of the Guardia di Finanza, donated by the Italian government to the Libyan militia in Tripoli in 2018. The patrol boat already had several dozen people on deck presumably captured in previous interception operations at sea. The Libyan militiamen radioed the MARE JONIO and threatened us to leave the boat. In the meantime, they began to perform dangerous manoeuvres around the boat in distress.We replied by radio that, in compliance with the 1979 Hamburg SAR Convention, we were at that moment OSC (On-scene Coordinator) and were already proceeding to the rescue.

At this point the militiamen on deck brandished machine guns and began firing volleys into the air, causing panic among the people on the boat in distress and also among those on the patrol boat itself. The Libyan militiamen beat the people on board with whips and sticks, some threw themselves into the water and others were pushed out. Terrified by the scene, the people on board the fibreglass boat also threw themselves into the water. Within minutes there were dozens of people in the water. The crew of our RHIB Rescue Boat ABBA1 began the rescue of the castaways at sea. At this point the Libyan militiamen exploded several gunshots and machine-gun fire at our second RHIB Rescue Boat ABBA2, shots which fell in some cases less than a metre from our tubes. The Libyan patrol boat did not respond to any admonition to respect the law of navigation and to the repeated calls from our ship's command to cease its highly dangerous behaviour.

Our crew, keeping calm, managed to complete the recovery of all people visible in the water and their safe transfer aboard the MARE JONIO at 5:25 p.m.. However, we are unable to state whether there are any possible missing persons among those who fell overboard from the Libyan patrol boat.

On board our ship, we gave first aid to the rescued people: all were terrified and in shock at what had happened, many with hypothermia, vomiting, in some cases from salt water ingested at sea, nausea, clear signs of torture suffered during their detention in Libya, abrasions and lacerated wounds from beatings suffered by some on board the Libyan patrol boat.

The people rescued on board the MARE JONIO eventually turned out to be 56 (fifty-six), of which 45 (forty-five) came from the fibreglass boat linked to the case reported by ALARM PHONE (two people remained on board and were subsequently captured by Libyan militiamen) and 11 (eleven) managed to escape from the Libyan patrol boat. From the testimonies collected among the shipwrecked persons, it would appear that the so-called Libyan coast guard carried out, before arriving at the scene of our rescue, two operations of interception and capture, respectively, of approximately 85 and 15 persons from two other boats in distress that were in the area, all fleeing from Libya, for an estimated total of approximately one hundred persons. All three operations appear to have been guided from above by the aircraft of the Armed Forces of Malta, thus complicit in the deportation of these people.

Among the 56 people rescued on board the ship MARE JONIO are a woman and several minors. The nationalities present are Bangladesh, Syria (Kurds), Egypt and Cameroon. In the evening, the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre IT MRCC in Rome announced the assignment of Pozzallo as a safe port (Place of Safety) for the 56 people rescued. In Pozzallo the disembarkation operations ended at 3 p.m. today, Friday 5 April.

"We are shocked by the level of violence meted out by the so-called Libyan coast guard. But at the same time proud to have saved at least 56 people from capture and deportation to the hell of Libya from which they were fleeing. We hold the Italian government and the European institutions directly responsible for what is happening at sea: the deadly collaboration with the Libyan militias must stop immediately. The ships of a European search and rescue mission must return to the sea and all the people trapped in Libya by Italian and European policies must be evacuated to Europe,' concludes Laura Marmorale, president of Mediterranea Saving Humans.

Pozzallo, 5thApril 2024

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