Former president ‘disappointed’ by Malta’s inaction after young girl dies of thirst at sea

A four-year-old girl was one of 62 people on board a vessel that left from Lebanon weeks ago

President Emeritus Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca (left) and Loujin, who died from thirst after spending days at sea
President Emeritus Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca (left) and Loujin, who died from thirst after spending days at sea

President Emeritus Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca has expressed disappointment that Malta was one of the countries that denied assistance to migrants in a case that led to the death of a four-year-old girl from thirst.

The girl was one of 62 people who spent days in distress drifting in Malta’s search and rescue zone close to Crete.

The Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian migrants on board had set sail from Lebanon to Italy almost two weeks ago, but quickly ran out of provisions as the fishing boat suffered a leak.

While 61 migrants disembarked in Crete on Wednesday, a four-year-old girl died while being airlifted to a hospital after she was found unconscious during the rescue operation.

Moroccan-Italian activist Nawal Soufy posted a photo on Facebook of the young girl, named Loujin, and said that her last words where “Mother, I’m thirsty”.

The photo quickly circulated online, and made it to the Facebook feed of Malta’s former president, who shared it to her own page.

“To me, this photo represents the injustice against those who have as much a right as I do to live in peace, not war,” she said.

Coleiro Preca added that she was disappointed to hear that Malta was mentioned as one of the countries that “left the girl out cold to die”.

Soufy told the Associated Press that she and other activists had tried pressing Maltese, Italian and Greek authorities to authorise a ship in the vicinity of the migrants to rescue them days before the actual rescue took place.

A cargo ship eventually rescued the people on board, but requested help from Malta’s Rescue Coordination Centre after two of the people rescued were unconscious, according to Efsyn. One of these was the four-year-old girl.

It was only after this that the RCC of Malta requested assistance from Greek authorities. A Greek navy helicopter went to the scene and airlifted the young girl to a hospital in Crete. She was pronounced dead when she arrived at the hospital.

The Maltese authorities have long-adopted a policy of non-communication with rescue NGOs, making it hard to know whether any action if at all was taken in response to the calls for help.

Malta's SAR stretches across a vast area in the central Mediterranean from Tunisia to Crete. It is Malta's responsibility to coordinate rescue efforts in this zone by directing ships that are close by to intervene and disembark the rescued people in the closest, safest port.