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[EYES ON THE CENTRAL MED #63]  Surge of departures from Tunisia and rising insecurity in the Central Mediterranean


[07.07 – 21.07.23] The following publication by SOS MEDITERRANEE intends to shed light on events which unfolded in the central Mediterranean in the past 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. Nearly 2000 lives rescued by civil organizations in less than two weeks  On July 7, the rescue ship Open Arms operated by NGO Open Arms rescued 300 people in six different operations.  survivors disembarked two days later in the port of Brindisi. The Humanity 1 of SOS Humanity NGO rescued 204 people in 4 separate rescues in International waters between Tunisia and Lampedusa on July 11.  The rescue ship Geo Barents operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) rescued 462 people from twelve boats in distress, eleven of which departed from Tunisia. During this extensive series of rescues, they were assisted by aircraft Colibri of NGO Pilotes Volontaires and the rescue ship Mare*Go. Italian authorities instructed the Geo Barents to disembark 116 people in Lampedusa, and then to proceed first to Marina di Carrara and then to Livorno to disembark the remaining survivors on July 19 and 20. In the meantime, the rescue ship Rise Above from the Mission Lifeline NGO assisted seven boats on July 16 in coordination with the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center. 77 people were taken on board and could disembark in Vibo Valentia on July 17.  The following day, the rescue sailing vessel Nadir from the NGO ResQship assisted 341 people on eight boats in distress within 14 hours in cooperation with the Italian Coast Guards and Colibri aircraft. They took on board 138 people while supporting four other boats. In the evening, the Italian Coast Guard disembarked 19 people from the Nadir. On July 19, the 119 remaining survivors could safely disembark in Lampedusa.  On July 20, the rescue vessel Mare*Go assisted nine boats in distress with approximately 400 people. survivors of eight boats were evacuated by the Italian Coast Guards, while people were evacuated from one boat by Mare*Go and the survivors were disembarked in Trapani the following day. The rescue vessel Life Support from the NGO Emergency rescued 184 people in four rescues on July 21. Thirteen survivors were disembarked in Lampedusa while the rest disembarked in the port of Taranto.   Surge of arrivals in Lampedusa and shipwreck off Sfax amid reports of escalating violence and discrimination against migrants in Tunisia According to the Italian journalist from Radio Radicale, Sergio Scandura, on July 10, almost 1200 people arrived in Lampedusa in 24 hours A shipwreck took place off Sfax the same week, claiming the lives of 46 people. Angela Caponetto, Italian journalist from Rainews24, reported that between July 20 and 21,people were rescued from dozens of boats by the Italian Coastguard and disembarked in Lampedusa. survivors reportedly departed mainly from Tunisia. On July 8th, 1200 people including a pregnant women and 29 children were deported by Tunisian authorities and abandoned in the desert at the Tunisian-Libyan border with little food, water or Shelter. Following that event, statements were published by UNHCR and Human Rights Watch to raise concerns about the discriminatory treatment and escalation of violence towards Sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia. Interceptions, forced returns and aggressions by Libyan Coastguard and reports of Libyan militia operating at sea 

On July 7, while the rescue ship Ocean Viking operated by SOS MEDITERRANEE and IFRC evacuated 11 survivors from a boat in distress in International waters off the coast of Libya, shots were fired from a Libyan Coastguard patrol boat less than 100 meters from the rescue crew and shipwrecked people. This was the third incident this year and part of a context of increasing insecurity in the Mediterranean Sea. According to the journalist Sergio Scandura, the patrol boat was given to the Libyan Coastguard by Italian authorities on June 24. 

On July 18, an Italian fishing boat was reportedly targeted in International waters by shots fired from a Libyan Coastguard patrol boat as well. 

On July 9, Seabird witnessed the interception of approximately 250 people in distress in the Maltese Search and Rescue Region. Reports suggest that the interception was conducted by a militia from Eastern Libya with close ties to self-styled General Haftar. According to Sea Watch, the same militia vessel was involved in an interception on July 26, once again in the Maltese Search and Rescue Region. Lighthouse Reports published a report on the smuggling network that organised the departure of the ship that capsized and sank off Pylos last June, causing the death of almost 600 people, finding close ties to General Haftar and to the Tariq Bin Ziyad militia that allegedly conducted pullbacks in Maltese waters in May and July.  On July 20, another interception was witnessed by Seabird in the International waters off Malta, this time conducted by the Libyan Coastguard. According to the International Organisation of Migration (IOM),337 people were intercepted and back forcibly returned to Libya between July 9 and July 22.  EU Parliament in favour of European rescue mission while NGOs launch legal complaint against Italian law-decree and NGO rescue ship faces detention in Italian port On July 11, following a Port State Control in Civitavecchia, the Ocean Viking was detained on the basis of an unusual interpretation of international ship regulations. Ten days later, the Italian authorities recognized that the ship chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE is in fact complaint with all applicable regulations and the rescue ship was once again free to save lives. On July 13, the NGOs MSF, Oxfam Italia, SOS Humanity, Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI) and EMERGENCYsubmitted a complaint to the European Commission (EC) about Italian Law 15/2023 and the practice of Italian authorities of assigning faraway ports to NGO ships for the disembarkation of survivors rescued from distress at sea.  The European Parliament adopted a resolution the same day requesting search and rescue mission at sea.