Mediterranean #15

22 / Mar / 2024 25 / Mar / 2024

Mediterranea rescues 172 people: 59 in cooperation with the Coast Guard and 113 disembarked from the Mare Jonio in Pozzallo

The three days of the MARE JONIO's 15th mission were a rapid succession of events and operations, demonstrating once again the need for the presence and activity of civil resources in the central Mediterranean. In fact, a window of a few 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 countries where, for various reasons, the living conditions of people on the move are becoming increasingly intolerable and their very lives endangered.

In fact, the MARE JONIO, after intense preparation by the crew and the rescue team, left the port of Trapani in the afternoon of Friday 22nd March, where it had been stationed after being 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 departure from Trapani

On the morning of Saturday 23rd, the MARE JONIO offered its assistance in the ongoing search for a 15-month-old girl missing in a shipwreck. Then, on VHF channel 16, it received a "Mayday relay" with a request for intervention from the EAGLE 1 aircraft of the European agency Frontex, which reported a vessel in distress 43 nautical miles south of the island of Lampedusa, in a SAR (Search and Rescue) zone theoretically under the jurisdiction of Malta. When it arrived at the scene, together with the German civilian vessel Mare*Go, it found an iron boat of only seven metres, overcrowded to the hilt, drifting with its engine broken and its waterline now dangerously reduced to a few centimetres.

First rescue in collaboration with the Italian Coast Guard

It began coordinating with the Lampedusa Operations Centre and the Italian Coast Guard patrol boat CP319, also acting as a radio link between the various units present. In order to avoid the imminent risk of the precarious boat capsizing and being lost, our rescue team distributed life jackets to all the people and collaborated with the Coast Guard by starting to lighten the boat and transfer the survivors to the patrol boat. After completing the operation with the rescue of 59 people, including seven women, two of whom were pregnant, who were disembarked by the Coast Guard in Lampedusa, MARE JONIO resumed its course south towards the SAR zone off the coast of Libya.

At 15.38 on the same Saturday, the 23rd, the MARE JONIO received a report of a new boat in distress from SEABIRD 2, Sea-Watch's civilian observation aircraft. After informing all authorities in the area of her readiness to assist, MARE JONIO immediately proceeded to the last known position of the boat. Once in the vicinity, it received a VHF radio call on channel 16 from an unspecified "Tunisian military vessel" giving the coordinates of the vessel's new position and requesting assistance.

After two hours of searching, when it was already dark, the MARE JONIO spotted the boat in distress, overcrowded with extremely distressed and panicked people, and, having established that the situation was in danger of sinking, began the rescue operation. By 21:45 all the castaways were safely on board our vessel: 55 people, including several unaccompanied minors. They were all very tired from the three-day journey from the Libyan coast, there were many cases of mild hypothermia, one boy had an amputated arm and many fresh and obvious scars on his body, a sign of the violence he had suffered in Libya.

The second rescue operation

Shortly afterwards, the Italian authorities announced that the Sicilian port of Pozzallo had been designated for the disembarkation of the shipwrecked, and the MARE JONIO began its 20-hour journey from the rescue site to the port.

The third rescue during the night

However, during the night, after midnight on Sunday, a new SOS was sent by 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, drifting without water or food. After contacting the National Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (IT MRCC in Rome), the MARE JONIO changed course and headed towards the last 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 after three days at sea and in danger of capsizing at any moment. As a result, 58 people were rescued, including four women and 12 minors: three children under the age of 12, including a boy aged 2 and two girls aged 3 years and 20 days, the youngest shipwrecked person ever rescued by the MARE JONIO.

The overwhelming majority of the people on this latest operation are of Syrian origin: individuals and entire families who have fled the war that has ravaged that country for more than ten years, only to end up in the hell of Libya, from which they were again fleeing. A total of 113 people were cared for and fed on board. Many of them were exhausted and dehydrated from days of travelling. In addition, several survivors were seasick, which led to vomiting episodes on board the endangered ship, which continued on the MARE JONIO, making it difficult for them to maintain adequate hydration and nutrition. This situation required intravenous therapy and hydration in several cases. In addition, the ship's doctor treated the latest injuries caused by the iron hull on which they had been forced to travel. Meanwhile, our ship continued on its way to the port of Sicily, where it was finally able to land at 10pm on Sunday evening.

The disembarkation of the 113 rescued people was finally completed at 00.45 on Monday 25 March at the Pozzallo dock.

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