The 17 survivors of a shipwreck on March 11 off the Libyan coast during their arrival at the Sicilian port of Pozzallo. March 13, 2023 | Photo: ANSA/FRANCESCA RUTA
The 17 survivors of a shipwreck on March 11 off the Libyan coast during their arrival at the Sicilian port of Pozzallo. March 13, 2023 | Photo: ANSA/FRANCESCA RUTA

The 17 survivors of a deadly boat disaster off the coast of Libya arrived on Monday in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo. The Sea Watch NGO continues to blame the Italian government for the tragedy.

The latest shipwreck off the Libyan coast on March 11 has left 30 people missing at sea. The 17 survivors, all Bangladeshi nationals, arrived on Monday afternoon (March 13) in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo in the Ragusa province.

The Froland cargo ship that rescued them arrived in the harbor and then coast guard patrol boats took them to shore.

On board were also two migrants for whom, initially, medical evacuation to Malta had been ordered.

The migrants were taken to the Pozzallo hotspot, where a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) team began providing psychological support to them.

MSF stated on Twitter that the top priority for the survivors was to call their family members to let them know what had happened and that for this reason MSF had made a cell phone available to them.

'They knowingly left them to drown'

The first to sight the drifting vessel on the morning of March 11 was the Sea Bird aircraft of the Sea Watch NGO, which had taken flight after an SOS was sent by one of the passengers to Alarm Phone.

Sea Watch has published the discussion with the cargo ship that intervened, the Basilis L., the Libyan sea coordination center and its Italian counterpart as well as the sea rescue coordination center of the Rome Coast Guard.

The cargo ship said that the Italian authorities had told it to follow the instructions of their Libyan counterparts. The latter, when contacted, said they were unable to send any rescue vessel.

Sea Watch then called the Italian center and asked who was thus responsible for the case since the Libyan center was unable to respond. The Rome center did not respond and hung up.

The authorities were aware of the risk of a shipwreck, the German NGO said, "for over 24 hours. They knowingly left them to drown."

There is thus another case gaining public attention -- after one in Cutro -- though this time the shipwreck did not occur in the Italian search and rescue zone.

Orders contained in 2019 directive

In a directive for the "unified coordination of surveillance activities of sea borders and to counter illegal immigration" sent on March 19, 2019 to the Italian chief of police and the commanders of the Carabinieri, the financial police, the coast guard, and the chief of staff of the navy, the interior minister at that time -- Matteo Salvini -- said that "our country certainly has the obligation to safeguard human lives at sea and to coordinate rescue operations, including outside its area of competence, when requested to do so but only until the rescue coordination center in charge of the area has not officially taken on the coordination of the case and thus the responsibility for rescue operations."

The directive called for more order in sea interventions, noting that "the need remains for the application of international laws on the safeguarding of lives at sea and also to avoid the possible instrumentalisation of international obligations" set by these laws.

Salvini went on to state that there are "multiple elements that are symptomatic of the instrumentalization by traffickers of the obligatory rescue activities in order to pursue the aim of undocumented entrance into [Italian] national territory.

"These elements, thus, cannot be assessed by the national public security authority and presuppose -- while at the same time ensuring timely rescue -- the need and opportunity to ascertain and verify in an immediate manner whether, in the actual situation, there has been a wilful and premeditated violation of international laws in the matter of rescues in order to elude the regulations on documented immigration, putting order and domestic security of the coastal state at risk."

Deputy minister says 'attacks on coast guard senseless'

Italy's deputy minister of transportation Edoardo Rixi has spoken out in defense of the country's coast guard.

"The attacks on the coast guard are ever more senseless," he said.

"The rescue operation for the boat drifting in Libyan waters occurred outside the Italian SAR zone. Speculating on a tragedy and instilling the doubt that someone may have wilfully delayed the rescue means employing the worst sort of cynicism in the hope of picking up even a small amount of support," he added.


More articles