The Guardian | 21.04.2017
Maritime log passed to the Guardian reveals rising panic of 100 people during agonising wait on dinghy
A hundred refugees and migrants crammed into a small dinghy that started taking in water in the Mediterranean endured an agonising 30-hour wait before they were rescued, a maritime log passed to the Guardian has revealed.
The incident happened over the Easter weekend, the unofficial start of the “sailing season”, which sees increased numbers of people attempting the crossing from Africa to Europe as the weather improves.
Twenty children and 10 women, one of them pregnant, were among the passengers on the overcrowded dinghy.
The log was passed to the Guardian by NGO Watch The Med’s Alarmphone network, which passes distress calls from migrant boats to the Italian coastguard so that a rescue can be coordinated. It details the passengers’ rising panic as more and more time passes without a rescue ship arriving.
Watch The Med was first alerted to the fact that the rubber boat was in trouble at 7.19am on Saturday morning, when it immediately alerted the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome, providing the satellite phone number and the GPS position so that the stranded people could be rescued.
The boats used by smugglers to ferry refugees have become increasingly flimsy and unseaworthy, and many rescues take place within a few hours of them leaving the Libyan coast for Italy.
People on the boat continued calling the Alarm Phone network throughout the day in an increasingly desperate state. A log entry at 11.34 am states: “They say the boat is in really bad condition, they are taking water out but it gets worse, water is coming in, they don’t have much petrol any more, they were begging me really hard to help them.”
Two cargo ships approached the struggling boat in the course of the day but did not rescue them and sailed away, the logs show.
At 3.10pm the log states the vessel is adrift with no boat or plane in sight: “They scream for help, panic begins to spread.” At 6.40pm, the passengers ask: “Are we gonna die tonight, it is getting dark a little?” At 7.20pm, they say the battery is running out on their phone. At 9.52pm, the last contact with the boats, passengers yell and say they are in danger and that a big boat is next to them but the rescue has not started.
It is not until 1.37pm on Sunday that the people on the dinghy are rescued by the Siem Pilot, a vessel operated by the European border force, Frontex.
The crossing from Libya to Italy is now the main and deadliest route into Europe. More than 181,000 people came to shore in Italy last year, and more than 4,500 died en route. So far this year arrivals are up a third on the same period in 2016. Approximately 850 people are estimated to have died.
NGOs accused Frontex and the European naval force, Eunavfor Med – both of which have boats equipped to rescue refugees stranded in the Mediterranean – of not doing enough over the Easter weekend.
Maurice Stierl from the Alarm Phone network accused European authorities of “intentionally withdrawing from the deadliest zone, off the coast of Libya, to create a space of abandonment”.
According to MRCC data, of the 25 ships involved in rescue operations over the Easter weekend one was operated by Frontex and one by Eunavfor Med. Ten of the ships involved in rescues belonged to NGOs, six to the Italian coastguard, six were merchant vessels, and one was an Italian navy ship.
Ruben Neugebauer, one of the crew on a four-seater rescue plane working for the first time over Easter with the NGO Sea-Watch, said: “I was quite shocked by what I saw at the weekend. I have been working with Sea-Watch since 2015 and I have never seen so few Frontex and Eunavfor rescue boats. This was a new quality of non-assistance.”
Frontex and Eunavfor denied the claims that they had not done enough to save lives and said they had been very busy patrolling the Mediterranean over the Easter weekend. Frontex said it was involved in 13 search-and-rescue operations.
The EU border force has previously accused NGOs operating in the Mediterranean of acting as a pull factor for migrants and refugees attempting to cross from Libya.