Mediterranean #16

03 / Apr / 2024 05 / Apr / 2024

MARE JONIO rescues 56 people despite being attacked by the so-called Libyan coastguard

The Mare Jonio departed from the port of Siracusa on Wednesday evening, April 3rd, for its sixteenth observation and rescue mission in the central Mediterranean, setting course in the early hours of dawn on Thursday, April 4th towards the SAR zone where the so-called “Libyan authorities” operate. At 13:45 and 15:16 we received by e-mail a notice 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 15:57 Mare Jonio 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 16:26 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 Lybian patrol boat 658 "Fezzan"

At 16:35 Mare Jonio spotted the boat in distress through binoculars and approached to check the situation. It was a fiberglass 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 to leave the boat. In the meantime, they began to perform dangerous maneuvers around the boat in distress. Mare Jonio 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 fiberglass boat also threw themselves into the water. Within minutes there were dozens of people in the water. The crew of Mare Jonio 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 meter from the tubes. The Libyan patrol vessel did not respond to any admonition to respect the maritime law and to the repeated calls from Mare Jonio ship’s command to cease its highly dangerous behavior.

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 17:25, including more than ten who managed to gain their freedom by jumping into the water from the deck of the Libyan patrol vessel and others who escaped capture by the militia tender.

On board our ship, the crew 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 Fezzan.

From the testimonies collected among the shipwrecked people, 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 2 other boats in distress that were in the area, all fleeing from Libya, for an estimated total of approximately one hundred persons. All 3 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 R/re MARE JONIO were a woman and several minors. They are of Bangladeshi, Syrian (Kurdish), Egyptian and Cameroonian nationality. In the evening, the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre IT MRCC in Rome announced the designation of Pozzallo as a place of safety for the 56 people rescued. In Pozzallo, the disembarkation operations ended at 15.00 on Friday 5 April.

“The policies of the Italian governments and European institutions have turned the central Mediterranean into a war zone,” remarked Denny Castiglione, Head of Mission of Mediterranea Saving Humans on board the ship MARE JONIO about the events of last April 4th. “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 true criminals against humanity,” he continued.

“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.

The head of mission Denny Castiglione
Back to missions

Save a life, save the world

let's rescue humanity together,
support our missions in the Mediterranean

«Do your part for
for Peace»

Our missions in Ukraine need you to help the civilian population.

Follow our

Leave your contact details to receive NAVTEXT, our open service for regular updates on sea and land activities.


  • I declare that I have read the privacy policy and consent to the processing of my data.