Is this to avoid the responsibility of saving them? Yesterday, a rubber boat with 27 people in distress was reported with a delay of 9 hours.
In the night between Thursday 8 and Friday 9 November, about 150 people arrived on the island of Lampedusa.
Among these, there was a black rubber boat with 27 people on board, with 8 women and 6 children. The case of this boat was followed by the Mare Jonio, which left at 17:10 from the port of Lampedusa in a southeasterly direction to continue its monitoring and reporting in the SAR area of Malta and in the one controlled by the Libyan forces.
At 19:30, in fact, 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: a rubber boat with about 30 people on board, which, according to these coordinates, was more than 70 miles from Lampedusa.
The Mare Jonio, on the basis of this report, changed its course towards 220° South-West to approach the area concerned, informing MRCC Malta of its position and its willingness to cooperate with the Maltese authorities for any rescue operations.
At 21:40 MRCC Malta communicated dryly, by e-mail, that “the case was closed”. At this point, the Mare Jonio requested further information, asking whether the Maltese Armed Forces (AFM) or Coast Guard had already rescued the people on board, or whether the case was deemed closed for other reasons. At 22:10 Malta replied that the rubber boat had reached, autonomously, the territorial waters of Lampedusa.
How was it possible? How could it be the same boat that only 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 Roma, coordination centre of Mare Jonio, Italian flagged vessel.
At 22:23 Mare Jonio contacted the MRCC operations centre in Rome by telephone and at 22:52 it wrote directly by e-mail to MRCC Roma, asking for explanations on the development 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 rubber 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 persons on board, 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 us by e-mail a satellite telephone call from Thuraya, started directly from a vessel in distress, the characteristics of which corresponded perfectly to those described in the first NavTex report of MaltaRadio concerning the rubber boat with about 30 people on board. This communication also indicated the presence of 8 women and 6 children. The position of the vehicle 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 23:23, after checking its position and possible operational scenarios, the Mare Jonio informed everyone that it was 42 miles southwest of the position indicated by WatchTheMed-AlarmPhone, and could therefore intervene only after about 4 hours of estimated navigation.
While the e-mail previously sent did not receive any response, MRCC Roma contacted the Mare Jonio by satellite phone, stating that in fact 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,
therefore, the Maltese and Italian authorities had not coordinated within those 9 hours and had not issued any warning for the entire period of time.
On board, in the telephone conversation, we insisted with Rome on the need for the Italian Coast Guard to intervene from Lampedusa, given the difficult situation of the rubber boat. We were guaranteed that it would be done.
At 8:10 this morning our sources from Lampedusa confirmed the arrival of the dinghy 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.
We are obviously happy to know that the people on the rubber boat, including six children, have been rescued in the port of Lampedusa. But too many inconsistencies mark the events of tonight, as it has already happened on many other occasions that we have been able to verify just because we are at sea.
This is not the first time that we have had direct feedback 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 the lives of children, women and men at risk in this way, 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 a period of 9 hours in which authorities of EU countries had awareness of a boat in danger with dozens of people on board and have not reported it or have prepared rescue operations. This behaviour is irresponsible, as well as illegitimate (since it is a legal obligation to report boats in distress on channels able to 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 deprive themselves of their duties of rescuing and saving?
Are we really ready to let six children drown to continue proclaiming the defence of European borders, without understanding that with them is drowning also the best part of our history and ourselves?
The 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 possibility of salvation, for all of us.
Central Mediterranean, 9 November 2018