From file: Rescuers from Sea-Eye in the Mediterranean Sea | Photo: Sea-Eye
From file: Rescuers from Sea-Eye in the Mediterranean Sea | Photo: Sea-Eye

Over the Easter weekend, four boats carrying migrants were reported to be adrift in the Mediterranean by the organization Alarm Phone. On Tuesday morning, the organization was still asking for confirmation that all the people on board have been rescued or reached land.

Despite the authorities announcing that the ports are closed in both Italy and Malta, migrant boats continued to arrive over the Easter weekend. At least four ships were identified heading towards Malta and Sicily over the weekend. 

Since then, various private rescue organizations, Alarm Phone, the European border agency Frontex as well as the authorities of both countries have been arguing over the fate of these four boats and the people on board.

"Europe let people drown at Easter," was one of the sentences that the German private rescue organization Sea Eye tweeted on April 12.

According to Sea-Watch's tweet, the four boats were thought to be carrying an estimated 258 people aboard. One of around 71, one of 47, one of 55 and one of 85 people with which they had lost contact. 

On Monday, the missing boat was feared to have capsized, after the EU border agency Frontex said that its patrols had come across an empty dinghy without an engine on Friday, but reports remained unconfirmed. 

Italian authorities dismissed reports of a shipwreck stating that the engine had "probably been part of a rescue operation by the Libyan coast guards" since the photographs showed no bodies or drifting objects, EPD reports.

Later on Monday, Frontex said it had located four migrant boats and that two of the boats had reached Sicily and two of them were off the coast of Malta, dpa reports. 

The news agency EPD also reported that two migrant boats had reached Sicily on Sunday and Monday. One boat with 101 migrants arrived in the south of Sicily on Sunday, and another boat with 77 migrants arrived in Portopalo in the east of the island on Monday, wrote EPD.

Ascertaining information 'difficult'

As the organization Alarm Phone confirms on its Twitter feed, it can be difficult to find out the fate of each boat as they drift on the Mediterranean currents. At least one boat made it to the Sicilian coast without being rescued, they said.

Boat arrives in Sicily

It is possible that the boat carrying 71 people floating south of Malta on April 12 could be a boat carrying Malian migrants which arrived in Sicily in the early hours of April 13. The Sicilian online newspaper Siracusa news, reported that 77 migrants from Mali had arrived in Sicily at Portopalo.

The report said that they arrived at dawn on April 13 (Easter Monday) on a 10 meter long rubber dinghy with a 40 horsepower outboard motor. Siracusa News said that all those on board were men and most of them were barefoot. Two of the 77 had to be taken to hospital, due to injuries they acquired during their journey.

After a fisherman alerted the authorities to their arrival, the men were met as they arrived on land by the police and local authorities. They were given first aid, masks, food and water and subject to medical checks. "We are just waiting for the doctors to arrive with the COVID-19 swabs" said the mayor of Portopalo Gaetano Montoneri to Siracusa News. "Then we are expecting the prefect of Siracusa to tell us where they should be taken for their quarantine," Montoneri added.

Alarm Phone confirmed that they had received word from "migrant communities" in Sicily that the 77 Malians were indeed the ones onboard the boat said to be carrying around 71 people that they had signaled south of Malta at the weekend.

Rescued by the Aita Mari

The boat identified by Alarm Phone as carrying 47 people, also south of Malta, has been confirmed by Alarm Phone as the same boat actually carrying 43 who were rescued by the Spanish rescue ship, the Aita Mari, on Monday evening.

At the time of writing, those 43 are still on board the Aita Mari and the Maltese authorities have sent food and medical supplies to the ship, but have so far refused their entry to a Maltese port.


On April 13, Alarm Phone tweeted that a search was needed to try and locate the position and the people aboard the boat said to be carrying around 55 people. Later they said that an Italian coastguard helicopter was out looking for them, but that they had lost all contact with the people on board.

Eventually, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Alarm Phone tweeted that the search had "spotted a boat in distress" which fit the drift patterns that Alarm Phone had calculated for the boat.

The latest tweets on this subject, at the time of writing, were still calling on the Italian and Maltese authorities to coordinate a rescue even though hopes for finding people on board alive in worsening weather conditions were "diminishing."


The fate of around 85 on board a boat east of Lampedusa is still not known after initial reports of a believed shipwreck remained unconfirmed.

Earlier last week, the private rescue organization Sea Eye also rescued around 150 people. They have now spent eight nights on board the ship after Italy refused to let the Alan Kurdi dock and disembark.

On Sunday, it was ordered that those on board the Alan Kurdi be transferred to another ship to remain in quarantine just off the Italian coast in order to protect the Sicilian population against further cases of COVID-19.

Quarantine against COVID-19

Last week, the Italian authorities detected one 15-year-old Egyptian migrant who tested positive for COVID-19 on Sicily. He is currently in quarantine. "Sicily does not want to experience similar tragic consequences of the coronavirus that [the northern region of] Lombardy experienced," said Sicily’s regional president Nello Musomeci to the online portal Siciliaweb.

Although several reports said that the migrants on board the Alan Kurdi would be transferred "in the next few hours" to the second ship to start their quarantine, the transfer has still not reportedly taken place.

Both the Italian and Maltese authorities continue to underline the fact that those arriving on their shores are the responsibility of the whole of EU and not just of their nations. 

The former rescue ship captain Carola Rackete tweeted on Monday "shame on you EU," because of the failure to coordinate and carry out rescue operations for all the ships which set sail over the weekend. In a further tweet on April 14, she said that COVID-19 should not be an excuse to not take migrants in and that an EU-wide solution was needed "more than ever." 


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