A new stand-off is developing as Maltese authorities refuse to allow 278 survivors aboard the Spanish search and rescue vessel Open Arms to disembark. On 13 September the longest stand-off in recent European maritime history ended, as 27 people rescued in the Maltese SAR zone were allowed to disembark in Sicily after almost 40 days stranded at sea.
Maltese and Italian authorities refuse to open ports to the Open Arms rescue vessel carrying 278 people including 56 unaccompanied children, rescued in three separate operations, two carried out in the Maltese SAR zone. Further, Malta has denied the vessel to move closer to shore to seek shelter during a storm in the area, and to evacuate people in need of medical attention. After more than a week at sea under harsh weather conditions the situation on-board is critical. According to the medical charity Emergency, nine people were in need of immediate hospital treatment with severe burns, including two pregnant women, one of them 18 years old and both suffering nausea and weakness. Civil Fleet reports that the two women and the husband of one of them was taken to Sicily by the Italian coast guard. On 17 September 70 people jumped overboard in desperation with an additional 48 jumping on September 18.
After warnings from Maersk Tanker, the owner of the ship Etienne, that supplies for the crew and 27 survivors on-board were running out and three people jumping overboard in desperation, disembarkation was finally allowed in Sicily. After almost 40 days stranded at sea the survivors were transferred to the Mare Jonio rescue vessel operated by Mediterranea Saving Humans and a day later allowed to disembark. The organisation stated: “The story of this merchant ship is in fact the story of the longest stand-off ever recorded in the central Mediterranean in recent years”.
Activity and tragedy continues at the Mediterranean. At least 24 lives were lost when an inflatable boat capsized off the Libyan coast IOM Libya reported on 15 September and according to the UN agency another 45 were returned to Libya by the so-called Libyan coast guard. On September 12, the Moroccan coast guard arrested 168 people trying to reach Spain, reportedly by any means including jet-skis and kayaks. According to the organisation Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) Italy has seen a significant increase of arrivals from Tunisia with 2,235 arrivals in August, bringing the total to 7,890 between 1 January and 31 August, 2020. 35 people arriving by boat to Southern Sardinia on 14 September were transferred to a reception centre on the mainland.
According to International Organization for Migration (IOM) Libya 8,435 people have been returned to Libya so far in 2020. The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR estimates that 495 people have died or gone missing at the Mediterranean in 2020 as of September 16. A recent study published by IOM reveals that: “sea rescue missions by European authorities and NGOs reduce the deadliness of sea crossings without significantly incentivizing irregular migration”.
For further information:
- ECRE, Med: the Moonbird Grounded Amid Crisis on the Med, Etienne Stand-off Continues, Horrifying Conditions in Maltese Detention Centres, September 2020
- ECRE, MED: 353 People Disembarked in Italy, 27 Remain Stranded off Malta, Increase of Arrivals in Lampedusa, September 2020
- ECRE, Med: Series of Deadly Shipwrecks While Civilian Search and Rescue Fleet is Blocked, August 2020
- ECRE, Med: 65 Lives at Risk, Inaction Continues, Evidence Culminates, NGOs Blocked, July 2020
- ECRE, Med: 118 Rescued, 211 into Quarantine while Italy Faces Legal Action for Pull-backs, June 2020
- ECRE, NGOs Resume Rescues amid Mounting Death Toll and Continued Pull-Backs, June 2020
- ECRE, Med: Malta Under-Fire for Continued Rights Violations but PM Dodges Homicide Charges, June 2020
- ECRE, Med: Continued Violations Topped with Dodgy Deals, May 2020
- ECRE, Med: New Evidence of Malta’s Deadly Strategies, May 2020
- ECRE, Med: 78 to quarantine on Italian Ship, 163 still Stranded amid Spike in Departures and Depleted Rescue Capacities, May 2020
- ECRE, Med: Hundreds Remain Stranded at Sea as Ports are Still Closed, Solidarity Remains Lacking and Interceptions Continue, May 2020
- ECRE, Med: Former Maltese Official Admits Push-Back while another 62 People are Left Stranded, 08 May 2020
- ECRE, Med: 180 Quarantined on Italian Ship while NGO takes Legal Actions against Maltese Decision-Makers, April 2020
- ECRE, Med: 12 Left to Die and 182 Stranded as EU States Refuse Rescue, April 2020
- ECRE, Med: 150 Stranded at Sea as Malta and Italy Declare Ports “unsafe”, April 2020
- ECRE, Med: IRINI Ships will Not Search but Rescue – Civilian Search and Rescue Vessel Back at Sea, April 2020
- ECRE, Med: EU Naval Arms Embargo Mission Jeopardised Over Migration Concerns, Cyprus Turns Away Syrian Nationals, March 2020
- ECRE, Med: Search and Rescue Operations Under Pressure from COVID-19, Interceptions and Return to Libya Continue, March 2020
- ECRE,Interview: WatchTheMed Alarm Phone: A Response for Rescue and a Call for Change, February 2020