A boat carrying 500 people, including a newborn baby born on board, has been pushed back to Libya, where passengers are allegedly imprisoned in Benghazi, according to Alarm Phone.
A migrant boat stranded at sea carrying over 500 people has been pushed back to Libya, according to information shared by the search-and-rescue hotline Alarm Phone late Friday afternoon.
Italian and Maltese authorities try to shift responsibility
On Tuesday (May 23) passengers reportedly first alerted Alarm Phone that their boat was stranded in distress. By that time, the boat had travelled for several days from Libya, and the engine had stopped, according to a tweet shared by Alarm Phone.
NGO EMERGENCY on Thursday (May 25) published a press release with more information about the boat and its passengers. The passengers on the boat reportedly included at least 45 women (several of whom are pregnant) and 56 children, as well as a baby born overnight at sea. The details were communicated by the boat’s passengers to Alarm Phone by satellite phone, EMERGENCY said.
Both Alarm Phone and EMERGENCY said that they had asked the competent authorities of Malta and Italy to coordinate rescue operations without response.
EMERGENCY reportedly requested assistance from the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center, which claimed that the rescue was the responsibility of the Maltese authorities.
No trace of the vessel in distress
A spokesperson for EMERGENCY told InfoMigrants on Thursday that their rescue vessel Life Support had immediately headed toward the boat's location to bring shipwrecked people to safety but that there had been no sign of the boat in the Maltese SAR area.
German NGO Sea-Watch posted on Twitter Wednesday that it sent its light observation aircraft, Sea Bird, to locate the vessel, but without success. On Wednesday, Alarm Phone said it had lost contact with the boat.
“We lost contact this morning, after we continuously alerted & updated the authorities in Malta and Italy,” the NGO posted on Twitter. “500 people cannot simply disappear!”
Policies that hinder rescue efforts
Italy's center-right coalition has enacted a number of new laws and policies hindering and slowing down sea rescue operations in the Mediterranean by limiting the number of rescue missions the ships can carry out before docking and assigning faraway ports to rescue ships carrying vulnerable people.
These measures can have serious consequences for those on board and the NGOs attempting to save lives at sea.
The increasing delay and inaction by the Italian and Maltese authorities has had a considerable human cost. In February 2023, a shipwreck off the coast of Calabria resulted in the deaths of 90 migrants, including 28 children, after distress calls to the Italian coast guard went unanswered.
The Italian government passed the so-called "Cutro Decree" in response to the tragedy, which, instead of introducing measures to improve sea rescue efforts, seeks to clamp down on traffickers as well as further tightening rules on migration and asylum.
The Missing Migrants Project has documented more than 30,000 deaths on maritime routes to Europe since 2014, including 1,000 deaths this year alone, and an unprecedented 938 recorded in the Central Mediterranean. The project emphasizes that these figures are almost certainly an undercount of the true death toll.
Also read: Italy: Long journeys to disembark migrants
Also read: Italy: New law curtails migrants' rights
This article was updated on May 26, 2023.