The crew of the Geo Barents found ten dead bodies at the bottom of the boat from which they rescued 99 people alive | Photo:  Candida Lobes / MSF @MSF_Sea
The crew of the Geo Barents found ten dead bodies at the bottom of the boat from which they rescued 99 people alive | Photo: Candida Lobes / MSF @MSF_Sea

The private rescue ship Geo Barents, run by MSF, announced on Wednesday that it had rescued 99 more people. At the bottom of the packed boat, they found 10 dead bodies. There are now 186 migrants on board the ship.

In a video released by the humanitarian medical organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Wednesday, November 17, a rig from MSF’s rescue ship Geo Barents, speeds to the rescue of a packed open boat, crammed with mostly sub-Saharan African migrants.

In total the Geo Barents crew rescued 99 migrants in this latest operation, bringing the number currently on board the rescue ship to 186 people, including "lots of women and children, the youngest being just ten-months old."

During the rescue, some people have to be pulled from the water as they struggle to get from their boat, which leans heavily to one side, and on to the rescue rig. As they finally board the Geo Barents, one young boy or teenager can be seen appearing to break down in the arms of an MSF staff member.

The relief is palpable as those rescued climb on board the Geo Barents | Photo: Candida Lobes via @MSF_Sea
The relief is palpable as those rescued climb on board the Geo Barents | Photo: Candida Lobes via @MSF_Sea

Third rescue in less than 24 hours

"Last night, the Geo Barents carried out its third rescue in less than 24 hours," stated Dr. Claudia Lodesani, president of Doctors without Borders (MSF) Italy in a video statement released by the organization. "99 people have been rescued, and unfortunately we found 10 dead at the bottom of the boat," Lodesani continued.

In a TG1 news report from Italy's public broadcaster Rai the reporter says that the ten people found dead were probably "crushed by their companions during the voyage, or died from the inhalation of fumes." The report shows pictures of the MSF crew on the empty boat with the bodies in black sacks.


The boat had been floating in the Mediterranean for at least 13 hours, narrates the Rai reporter Giulia Palmieri.

Relatives of the dead on board

Fulvia Conte, the deputy search and rescue coordinator on board the Geo Barents, said that it took the crew "at least two hours to transfer the dead to the Geo Barents, in order to be able to offer them a dignified burial when the ship docks and those rescued can disembark."

Relatives and friends of some of those who died are on board the Geo Barents too, added Conte, saying the crew was "shocked and indignant" by what had happened.

In an MSF press release, the organization said that the boat had been taking on water when the Geo Barents located it and begun the rescue. MSF said that when those on board had first called Alarm Phone it was because some of those at the bottom of the boat already appeared to be unconscious and were "no longer responding."

Those who survived told MSF that those who had died had spent "more than 13 hours crushed at the bottom of the boat, inhaling fumes." MSF thinks they probably died from suffocation.

Also read: Tales from the Border (2/8): Ocean Viking -- Saved by the 'big boat'

'They are my brothers, let me see them'

One of the survivors, Abdoulaye* implored MSF crew to let him see the faces of those who died. "They are my brothers, he called out. We are from the same place and we left Libya together. I have to tell their families they died. Please, just let me see them."

MSF say there are now 152 men, 34 women and 61 minors on board. Those rescued come from several different countries, including Guniea, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Somalia and Syria.

Their boat had set off from Libya, where many of them suffered trauma, stated MSF.

'Deaths avoidable'

"These ten deaths were totally avoidable," explained Lodesani to camera, "if only there were politicians and the political will to do so. It is unacceptable that in 2021 we are still seeing more than 1,200 people dying on the Mediterranean route since the beginning of this year."

Lodesani concluded that what was most unacceptable was what she called the "indifference of the authorities which are not doing anything to avoid these deaths."

On Twitter, Lodesani said that the people who had died were "people in danger, people who were fighting for hope, people who had a family who were relying on them for survival, people who laughed, who cried, who studied, who worked…. People like us, people who should have survived."

Caroline Willemen, head of the MSF crew on board the Geo Barents said that the latest rescue just served to underline that what was needed in Europe was a coordinated search and rescue system for the central Mediterranean.

Also read: Dehydration, trauma - the health risks migrants face

Adrift in the Libyan SAR

Alarm Phone raised the alarm about the boat on Tuesday afternoon, saying there was a boat drifting in trouble about 30 miles off the Libyan coast. The location was then confirmed by the search and rescue plane Seabird.

The rescue took place in the Libyan Search and Rescue (SAR) zone, confirmed a journalist on board the Geo Barents Valeria Riccioni. Broadcasting on Radio1Rai, Riccioni said that Tuesday was a "very difficult day."

The Geo Barents crew had already rescued 77 people in the 24 hours previously to finding the 99 in the Libyan SAR | Photo: @vynguyenhoang via @MSF_Sea
The Geo Barents crew had already rescued 77 people in the 24 hours previously to finding the 99 in the Libyan SAR | Photo: @vynguyenhoang via @MSF_Sea

'The smell of fuel is very strong'

"The smell of fuel is very strong," says Riccioni in her report from the rescue. Accompanied by the sounds of shouts and confusion, Riccioni explains: "Lots of people fall into the water, others throw themselves in."

The rescue on Tuesday afternoon followed two previous ones carried out by the Geo Barents this week. The first ended in the crew picking up 25 people in the Maltese SAR on Monday and a second, during Monday night in to Tuesday, rescued 62 people.

The people on board are "tired and traumatized after their terrible journey," said MSF Italia on Twitter. "They need to be brought to safety as soon as possible." Willemen said that the Geo Barents was calling for a safe port in which to disembark those rescued as soon as possible.

*Not his real name, it was given to him by MSF in order to protect his identity

Also read: 'Migrant doctor' Pietro Bartolo heals the wounded on Lampedusa

 

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