Sun, Jul 01, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Spanish ship told not to respond to call


Proactiva Open Arms mission leader Riccardo Gatti, right, and volunteer Victor Aguinaga search for migrants in the Mediterranean Sea aboard the Astral on Friday.

Photo: AP

A Spanish rescue ship patrolling the Mediterranean Sea on Friday said that Italian officials told it to let the Libyan coast guard respond to a distress call from a smuggling boat carrying 100 migrants, only to hear reports shortly afterward that 100 migrants were missing and feared dead in the same area.

The account by Proactiva Open Arms came as EU leaders in Brussels signed a deal aimed at controlling migration that steps up support for the Libyan coast guard and demands that humanitarian and other ships operating in the Mediterranean not obstruct their operations.

Such demands would cost the lives of people at sea, Open Arms founder Oscar Camps said.

“The problem is there won’t be anyone to witness this and denounce it, that is what will happen starting now,” Camps said.

The Open Arms crew intercepted a radio transmission at about 8am between the European military and the Libyan coast guard giving details of a rubber boat in distress with 100 migrants on board, Open Arms head of mission Ricardo Canardo said.

However, an official distress signal was only received by boats in the region on the Navtex navigation system 90 minutes later.

When Open Arms called the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome to offer help, officials said the Libyan coast guard had the situation covered and that no assistance was needed.

Shortly thereafter, they received the news that more than 100 people were missing at sea in that same region.

“We suspect it is the same people,” Canardo said.

The Libyan coast guard said they rescued 16 migrants, but that the boat capsized east of Tripoli with or about 100 on board who are missing at sea and feared dead.

A survivor spoke of 125 people on board, including women and children.

Riccardo Gatti, captain of another Proactiva ship, the Astral, said he has witness tragic rescues performed by the Libyan coast guard, which lacks the most basic equipment, including life vests.

In the past, the Libyan coast guard has shot in the air during a rescue operation involving Open Arms ships, and aid workers say they have never responded to Open Arms’ requests to help in a rescue.

“For months now, [the Libyan coast guard] has been presented as an official body, formal, very well-trained and legal, and these are the same people who have shot at us, who have kidnapped us,” Gatti said. “All of this is theater.”

Astral left Malta early on Thursday with four European legislators on board as observers.

However, the boat is unlikely to be able to return to Malta, as it has closed its ports to humanitarian ships as it investigates the actions of a private German rescue mission accused of allegedly violating maritime law.

Open Arms has already been denied a request to make port in Malta to resupply, and a similar request to Italy has not been answered.

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