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[EYES ON THE CENTRAL MED #64] Three SAR vessels detained amidst escalation of humanitarian needs in the central Mediterranean


[01.08 – 22.08] 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. NGOs ships rescue thousands of people and witness the lack of sea rescue capacity  After disembarking 66 people in the port of Lampedusa on August 3rd, the sailing vessel Astral operated by NGO Open Arms set sail for another operation. Between August 10th and August 11th, Astral assisted five boats in distress in the Maltese Search and Rescue Region in cooperation with the Italian Coast Guard. 60 people were taken on board and one unconscious pregnant woman was evacuated in coordination with the Maltese Coast Guard. The Italian authorities instructed them initially to request coordination for the allocation of a place of safety from the Tunisian authorities. survivors were finally authorized to disembark in Porto Empedocle in Sicily on August 12th.  In the meantime, on August 3rd and 4th, the rescue ship Open Arms operated by NGO Open Arms evacuated 295 people in nine seperate operations, all coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard, and assisted another 12 boats in distress. survivors disembarked two days later in the port of Brindisi.  On August 12th, the Open Arms left for another mission and rescued on August 17th and 18th 195 survivors. They were able to disembark in the distant port of Carrara after 4 days of navigation on August 22nd.  After disembarking 48 people in Trapani on August 1st, rescue ship Louise Michel set sail again on August 9th and rescued 33 people who had been at sea for 10 days and disembarked them in Trapani the next day. Frontex aircraft Eagle2 had set off a mayday relay for the distress case.  On August 4th, the sailing vessel Nadir of NGO ResQship rescued 150 people from 4 boats in distress. Later, the Italian Coast Guard took 60 survivors on board, including medical emergencies and children. The 90 remaining survivors were disembarked in Lampedusa. On August 7th, the Geo Barents, operated by the NGO MSF, rescued 47 people in the Maltese Search and Rescue Region with the help of civil aircraft Seabird. They disembarked on August 11th in La Spezia. The next week, they rescued 55 people following an alert by Seabird, and disembarked everyone safely in Bari on August 20th.  In the meantime, on August 10th,Mare Go*rescued 44 people from an overcrowded rubber boat and disembarked them two days later in Pozzallo.  Between the 10th and 11th of August, the Ocean Viking rescued 623 people in 15 separate operations, the biggest operation in the ship’s history. Some of the survivors disembarked in Porto Empedocleon August 12th, and the remaining rescued people in the port of Civitavecchia two days later.  Humanity 1 of NGO SOS Humanity rescued 120 people in two seperate operations on August 11th. They disembarked five days later in the distant port of Ancona.  On August 12th, Life Support from the NGO Emergency rescued 76 people in the Maltese Search and Rescue Region and disembarked them in Naples two days later. On August 19th, they rescued 40 survivors and disembarked them in Ortona on August 23rd.   On August 12th, the rescue ship Aurora of NGO Sea Watch rescued 22 people south of Lampedusa and disembarked them in Pozzallo the following day.  On August 19th, Sea Eye 4 of NGO Sea Eye rescued 114 people in three separate operations in about 72 hours and disembarked them on August 22nd in Salerno.  Italian Coast Guard rescues multiple boats in distress According to the Italian journalist Sergio Scandura of Radio Radicale, the Italian Goast Guard rescued 24 people on August 1st and disembarked them in Catania. He also reported that the hotspot on Lampedusa was under pressure, accommodating more than 1300 people in the beginning of August while only being intended for a maximum number of 250 people. On August 21st, the ferry ship Galaxi disembarked approximately 600 survivors rescued by the Italian Coast Guard and the bodies of four deceased persons, including a child in Porto Empedocle.  On August 7th, a group of people, including two pregnant women and a child, were rescued by the Italian Coast Guard from a rock off Lampedusa after their boat was pushed towards the coast by strong waves. They had been stranded for days. Three NGO vessels detained in Italy Between August 21st and 22nd, the NGO rescue ships Open Arms, Sea-Eye 4 and Aurora have been fined and detained for 20 days each in application of the “Piantedosi decree”, now decree law 1/2023, emptying the central Mediterranean of search and rescue assets.  Open Arms was detained in the port of Carrara after Italian authorities claimed the crew disregarded instructions issued by maritime authorities, who had advised against conducting two rescues. Likewise, Aurora was detained after refusing Italian orders to sail to Trapani to disembark 76 survivors and instead sail at the closer location of Lampedusa. The ship’s crew stated that it was running out of fuel and drinking water. Sea-Eye was detained after disembarking 114 survivors to Salerno and being accused of violation of new Italian law on sea rescue.  

Number of deaths in the central Mediterranean higher than last year  

In the first week of August, three shipwrecks off the coast of Tunisia resulted in at least 14 dead and 72 missing. Most of the perished are from countries South of the Sahara. On August 14th, another shipwreck took place off the coast of Tunisia, claiming at least five lives, including one child. Seven people are still missing. More than 2000 people have died since the beginning of the year in the central Mediterranean according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The number of people reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean Sea since the start of 2023 is already higher than in the previous four years. Forced returns to Libya and Tunisia despite reports of human right violations  Seabird witnessed the merchant vessel MARDIVE force people back on their boat and hand them over to the Libyan Coast Guard. According to the IOM, 759  people were intercepted and forcibly returned to Libya between July 30 and August 19.   On August 21st, about 500 people were deported to the Tunisian-Algerian border. A few days before, an open letter was published in several media outlets signed by 379 researchers and members of the civil society “to denounce the anti-migrant policies of EU countries and Tunisia”. 

Credit: Stefano Belacchi / SOS MEDITERRANEE