Published by Board of Mediterranea | 25 / Mar / 2024

Mediterranea rescues 172 people: 59 in cooperation with the Italian Coastguard, 113 disembarked from Mare Jonio in Pozzallo

A recap of the first three days of MEDITERRANEA’s Mission 15

The first three days of Mission 15 of the ship MARE JONIO were a rapid succession of events and operations, proving once again how necessary the presence and activity of civilian assets in the central Mediterranean is. Indeed, a window of a couple of days of good weather and calm seas was enough for dozens of departures of women, men and children from the coasts of Libya and Tunisia, fleeing from countries where, for various reasons, the living conditions of people on the move are increasingly intolerable and their very lives at risk.

The MARE JONIO, after intense preparation by the crew and the Rescue Team, set sail on the afternoon of Friday 22nd March from the port of Trapani, where she was stationed after having been hit, between October and November 2023, by the application of the "administrative detention" of the Piantedosi Decree following its refusal to "cooperate" with the so-called "Libyan authorities".

Mare Jonio set sail from Trapani

Heading south, on the morning of Saturday 23rd the MARE JONIO offered her availability for the ongoing search for the 15-month-old baby missing in a shipwreck. Then she received via VHF radio channel 16 a 'may-day relay' with a request for intervention from the EAGLE 1 aircraft of the European agency Frontex, which reported a boat in distress 43 nautical miles south of the island of Lampedusa, in a SAR (search and rescue) zone theoretically under the jurisdiction of Malta. Arriving on the scene, together with the German civilian ship Mare*Go, she found an iron boat only seven metres long, overcrowded to the extreme, adrift with its engine broken down and its freeboard now dangerously reduced to a few centimetres.

the first rescue in collaboration with the Italian Coastguard

She began coordinating with the Lampedusa operations room and with the Italian Coast Guard's patrol boat CP319, also acting as a radio link between the various units present. To avoid the looming risk of the precarious boat capsizing and consequent shipwreck, our Rescue Team distributed life jackets to all the people and cooperated with the Coast Guard by starting to lighten the boat and transferring the first survivors to the patrol boat. Once the operation was completed with the rescue of 59 people, including 7 women, two of whom were pregnant, who had been disembarked in Lampedusa by the Coast Guard, the MARE JONIO resumed her southbound course towards the SAR zone off the coast of Libya.

At 3.38 pm on Saturday 23rd, MARE JONIO received a report of a new vessel in distress from SEABIRD 2, Sea-Watch's civil observation aircraft. Having communicated her readiness to intervene to all the Authorities in the area, the MARE JONIO immediately headed for the last known position of the boat. Once in the vicinity, she received a VHF radio call on channel 16 from an unspecified 'Tunisian military vessel', which gave the coordinates of the vessel's new position and asked us to come to its aid.

After two hours of searching, when it was already dark, the MARE JONIO spotted the boat in distress, overcrowded with extremely tried and panicked people, and, having ascertained the situation at risk of imminent sinking, began the rescue operation. By 9.45 pm, all the shipwrecked people were safely on board our ship: 55 people rescued, including several unaccompanied minors. We immediately started to provide the first medical care, since they were all very tried after more than three days of travel from the Libyan coasts. There were numerous cases of hypothermia, one boy had an amputated leg and many bore fresh scars on their bodies, signs of the violence they had suffered while in Libya.

The second rescue

Shortly afterwards, the Italian authorities announced the assignment of the Sicilian port of Pozzallo for the disembarkation of the shipwrecked people, and the MARE JONIO began her approximately 20-hour voyage from the rescue site to reach it.

Il terzo soccorso durante la notte

However, after 00.30 on Sunday, a new SOS was launched from Alarm Phone to all the authorities: more than fifty people had contacted the hotline from a boat in distress, with women and children on board, adrift without water or food. After contacting the National Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (IT MRCC in Rome), the MARE JONIO diverted her course to the last communicated position of the boat reported by Alarm Phone. After an intense four-hour search, the vessel was finally located: an iron boat overloaded with people from Libya, exhausted from three days at sea and at risk of capsizing at any moment. 58 people were rescued, including four women and 12 minors: among them were three children under the age of 12, including a boy aged 2 and two girls aged 3 years and 20 days respectively, the youngest ever shipwrecked person rescued by the MARE JONIO.

The overwhelming majority of the people in this latest operation are of Syrian origin: individuals and entire families who have fled the war that has been battering that country for more than ten years and ended up in the Libyan hell, from which they again found themselves fleeing. A total of 113 people were cared for and fed on board. Many of them were debilitated and dehydrated from the days of travel. In addition, several survivors were seasick, causing episodes of vomiting on board the endangered vessel, which continued on the MARE JONIO, making it difficult for them to hydrate and feed themselves adequately. This situation required intravenous therapy and hydration in several cases. In addition, the recent injuries caused by the iron boat on which they had been forced to travel were being treated by the doctor on board. Meanwhile, our ship continued on her way to the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, where she was finally able to land at 10pm on Sunday evening.

The disembarkation operations of the 113 rescued people were finally completed on the Pozzallo pier at 00.45 am on Monday 25 March.

Pozzallo, 25th March 2024

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