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[Eyes on the central Med #48] New detention of a civil NGO ship while several devastating shipwrecks claim numerous lives


[21.09 – 04.10.22] The following publication by SOS MEDITERRANEE intends to shed light on events which unfolded in the central Mediterranean in the past two weeks. It is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather to provide a general update on maritime search-and-rescue-related matters occurring in the area we have been operating in since 2016, based on public reports by different NGOs, international organisations and the international press 


More than ten boats rescued by civil NGO ships and maritime authorities within two weeks 

On September 21, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF/Doctors Without Borders) vessel Geo Barents rescued 76 people from an overcrowded rubber boat, including 18 unaccompanied minors  distress in International waters off Libya.  A safe port to disembark survivors is designated on September 29, after nearly eight days spent at sea and at least ten PoS requests, according to the NGO. Following one day of navigation to reach Taranto, the disembarkation was completed on September 30. 

On September 21, Open Arms Uno was assigned the port of Messina (Sicily) to disembark the 402 survivors and the body of one deceased person. The NGO vessel had rescued four boats in distress between September 15 and September 18. On September 18 early in the morning, the crew rescued 294 people, including 43 women and 60 children who had departed four days earlier. The previous day, after more than 24 hour-search, they rescued 59 people  who had taken refuge on an oil rig and also recovered a deceased person. The disembarkation ended on September 23. 

On September 22, the Resqship’s sailing vessel Nadir evacuated 75 people from two boats in distress, later transferred to Italian coastguard patrol vessels. 

On September 29, the Louise Michel rescued 88 people from a rubber boat in distress, following an alert sent by the civil network Alarm Phone. Among the survivors, 68 were unaccompanied minors. The NGO reported that the rescue operation was rendered difficult by the fast approach of Libyan coastguards. On September 30, the Louise Michel was assigned Lampedusa as a Place of safety to disembark survivors. The same island off which 368 people died in a tragic shipwreck on October 3, 2013. A commemoration of this tragedy took place in the island on October 3 of this year, with a march of students, survivors, and members of institutions during which the mayor of Lampedusa called for a “European response” to the needs to rescue people in distress in the central Mediterranean. On the 4th, the Louise Michel rescued 48 people from an overcrowded wooden boat in distress, following another alert sent Alarm Phone. 

On the night of 26 to 27 September, the Italian and Spanish coastguards performed a joint rescue operation of a large wooden boat in distress off Sicily. According to Italian journalist Sergio Scandura of Radio Radicale, 371 people were onboard. The boat would have departed from the city of Umm Saad, in Libya, on border town with Egypt.  


Several tragic shipwrecks claim over 145 lives, amid interception and forced returns to Libya 

A devastating shipwreck off Syria claimed at least 100 lives on September 22. Between 120 and 170 people are reported to have been on the small boat who departed from Lebanon, in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean, towards Italian coasts. The shipwrecked were mostly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians and reportedly included children and the elderly. UNICEF said that at least ten children appeared to be among the dead. Following this tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea, UNHCR, IOM and UNRWA jointly called for action: “In response to increased sea departures from the [MENA] region over the past months, IOM, UNHCR, and UNRWA call on coastal states to increase efforts to build their capacity to provide search and rescue services and to work to ensure predictability in identifying safe places of disembarkation.” 

Another shipwreck is feared to have occurred off Tunisian coasts on September 26. The Tunisian Navy, coastguards and fishermen jointly searched for 17 reported missing persons. 

On September 28, a shipwreck off Libya is reported to have claimed 32 lives according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Nine deceased persons were retrieved, and 23 others are reported missing by the survivors. All eight survivors of the tragedy were forcibly returned to Libya by Libyan maritime authorities.  


On September 22, the Paris Court of Appeals reopened an inquiry on a shipwreck dating back to March-April 2011 when 63 people died. A dinghy with 72 people onboard went adrift for two weeks off the Libyan coasts, without receiving any support, while several French military ships were navigating in the area.  


No interceptions and forced returns to Libya were recorded by International Organisation Migration (IOM), between September 18 and September 24. In the period of 25 September – 01 October 2022, 121 men and women were intercepted by Libyan maritime authorities and forcibly returned to Libyan shores. 


Announcement of a new NGO ship and detention of the Sea-Watch 3.  

After rescuing 428 persons from distress at sea, the Sea-Watch 3 of the German NGO Sea-Watch was detained by Italian maritime authorities on September 21, in Reggio Calabria. The NGO denounced a political intensification of “the criminalization of migration and civil sea rescue”.   

Few days later, the same NGO, Sea-Watch, announced the launch of a new asset to be purchased and rebuilt for Search and Rescue activities: the Sea-Watch 5.  


Photo credit : Isabelle Serro / SOS MEDITERRANEE