34 migrants, rescued first by a container ship, were transferred onto the private rescue ship Sea-Eye 4 on Sunday, May 8 | Photo: Sea-Eye on Twitter @seaeyeorg
34 migrants, rescued first by a container ship, were transferred onto the private rescue ship Sea-Eye 4 on Sunday, May 8 | Photo: Sea-Eye on Twitter @seaeyeorg

On Sunday evening, the private rescue ship, Sea-Watch 4 announced it had rescued "88 people from distress at sea." The ship's crew reported they now have 145 on board. The Sea-Eye 4 also picked up 34 people from a cargo ship, after the migrants had spent at least four nights at sea.

Multiple rescue operations over the weekend resulted in 122 migrants being rescued from the Mediterranean, reported the German news agency dpa.

On Sunday, May 8, the Sea-Eye 4 took over the rescue of 34 migrants from a cargo ship, according to a press-release from the private rescue organization Sea-Eye. The migrants, stated the press release, had been at sea for at least four days and were "totally exhausted."

The Sea-Watch 4 was also busy in the Mediterranean over the weekend. On Monday, May 9, the private rescue organization which runs Sea-Watch, tweeted that on Sunday, its crew had completed the "second rescue of the night...[and] rescued 88 people from distress at sea." This brings the numbers of those on board Sea-Watch 4 to 145, stated the organization.

The Sea-Watch 4 is operated under an alliance at the moment called "United4rescue." On Monday, Sea-Watch announced that from August, it would be handing operations of the Sea-Watch 4 over to SOS Humanity, to allow it to concentrate on its operations of the Sea-Watch 3, and its reconnaissance aircraft Seabird 1 and 2.

How the rescue unfolded

Over on the Sea-Eye twitter page, an account of how their rescue unfolded was also posted on Monday, along with several photos. On Friday, May 6, the organization Alarm Phone tweeted that a migrant boat was in trouble in international waters, just north of the Libyan city of Benghazi.

A German flagged container ship, the Berlin Express, operated by the shipping firm Hapag Lloyd AG, was the first on the scene, but because it has such high sides, and the waves were relatively high, it was decided that a rescue could not be carried out. The crew of the Berlin Express stayed near the migrant boat and sent them water and food on a small boat, explains the Sea-Eye press release.

The captain of the Berlin Express stayed in contact with the crew of the Sea-Eye, as well as the search and rescue coordination center in Bremen. At that time, on Friday night, states Sea-Eye, their ship was searching the seas east of Tripoli. However, they then changed course and began sailing towards the Berlin Express’ position.

Second cargo ship arrives

In the meantime, several other cargo ships reached the Berlin Express, and one, the BSG Bahamas, eventually managed to bring the 34 on board on Sunday evening. The BSG Bahamas is managed by the Hamburg shipping company CPO Container ships.

The CPO shipping company, in a statement, said that their ship was on its way from Alexandria, in Egypt, towards Tanger Med, a Moroccan harbor, between Tangiers and the Spanish enclave Ceuta. The ship arrived at the Berlin Express at night, and so it was decided to wait until morning before attempting a rescue, since the swell was at least two meters high.

As soon as day broke, the captain of the BSG Bahamas, decided to bring the 34 people on board his ship. "Apart from two people suffering from sea-sickness, most of them seemed to be OK," stated the shipping company’s spokesperson Ortwin Mühr.

Once the migrants were on board the BSG Bahamas, the Berlin Express was able to continue with its own journey. A spokesperson for Hapag Lloyd, Silke Muschitz, said that their captain and his crew had done an "outstanding job, and that from the very start, their crew would do everything they could to help someone in trouble at sea." Muschitz added that they wanted to thank Sea-Eye for its support and that the captains of both ships had been in "constant contact and exchange" with the captain of Sea-Eye.

Sea-Eye medical team assess situation

On Sunday evening, Sea-Eye 4 reached the BSG Bahamas and a medical team from Sea-Eye and German Doctors went on board the BSG Bahamas to "assess the situation." It was then decided that the Sea-Eye crew would take the 34 migrants on board, where they would obtain better medical care than on a container ship.

"Without the help of the crews of the Berlin Express and the BSG Bahamas, these people would have no chance of survival," said Gorden Isler, head of Sea-Eye in Germany. Isler added though that the situation should not have been allowed to develop in the way it did and that the boat had been in the Maltese search and rescue zone. "Once again, Malta has refused to take on its responsibilities and coordinate a rescue, so that the German search and rescue coordination center in Bremen was forced to step in and coordinate a rescue of people in trouble in the Mediterranean."

The humanitarian medical organization Doctors without Borders (MSF), which also operates a rescue ship in the Mediterranean, also posted several times over the weekend about the incident. On Sunday, before the migrants were taken on board Sea-Eye, MSF reminded the international community that "rescuing boats in distress is not an option, it’s a legal obligation." They called leaving 34 people potentially to drown "under the radar of Europe," as "unacceptable."

Arrivals in Italy: 108 safe, two dead

Alarm Phone tweeted on May 7 that the Maltese RCC (rescue coordination center) said that the 34 people were not in fact adrift in their search and rescue zone, but in international waters and the Libyan SAR zone.

On Friday, the Italian coast guard "rescued more than 100 migrants, and recovered two bodies," reported the news agency Associated Press (AP). The migrants had to be rescued after a sailboat ran aground, added AP "near a jetty in southern Italy."

According to AP, all 108 migrants had been on board a "double-masted sailboat" when it overturned on the west coast of Calabria, in the toe of the boot of Italy, facing the island of Sicily. Most of the migrants were from Afghanistan, according to Italian state TV. Italian police and coast guard used helicopters to search the surrounding coast and water, but stated that no-one appeared to be missing.

The Italian Interior Ministry keeps a daily record of the numbers of those who have arrived in Italy by sea. The latest figures from January 1 to May 9, state that 11,882 people have arrived so far this year. Slightly less than the numbers who arrived by boat in the same period in 2021 (12,699).


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