NGOs carrying out rescues of hundreds of refugees at sea in inclement weather

Easter weekend is set to be the latest marker in the record-breaking escalation of the ongoing humanitarian refugee crisis at sea

Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi/
Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi/

Just over 40 hours of ongoing rescues and crisis management for the crew of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station’s Phoenix, and yet it seems, the NGO is still waiting for help to arrive.

NGOs MOAS and Sea Eye said that merchant boats had now stepped in to assist, as over 1,500 migrants were rescued from nine vessels over 24 hours.

In a tweet, MOAS founder Chris Catrambone said two merchant ships had now involved themselves in the rescues, after the Phoenix took on board 453 people, but the NGO was still monitoring 1,000 people out at sea.

The Sea-Eye has taken on board an additional 120 people from a sinking rubber boat. “At the moment a total of about 200 people are on board. One pregnant women, whom we tried to reanimate, has died. About 8-10 dead bodies in the sea. The Sea-Eye is extremely overcrowded and waiting for help, while the weather is turning more windy and the waves are getting higher,” the Sea Eye NGO said on Facebook.

“At the moment we are trying to evacuate seven people (including a pregnant woman) from a Libyan fishing boat.”
Another boat, the Iuventa , was said to be unable to manoeuver as it is overcrowded with refugees, and now facing increasing wind speeds and waves.

24-hour rescue

Since the early hours of Saturday, MOAS had taken 453 people on board and with the Phoenix at capacity, the MOAS crew were left supervising over 1,000 people crammed on the remaining boats into the night as they waited for assistance to arrive.

With 2,074 rescues conducted in the Central Mediterranean by various search-and-rescue (SAR) assets on Friday 14th, including 134 rescued by the Phoenix, this weekend was set to be the latest marker in the record-breaking escalation of this ongoing humanitarian crisis at sea.

In a 24-hour marathon of continuous rescue operations, which are still underway, the MOAS crew rescued and assisted people from a total of nine vessels, including seven rubber boats and two wooden boats.

Women, children and medical cases took precedence as 453 people were brought safely on board the Phoenix. As maximum capacity was reached, life jackets, basic provisions and supervision was then administered in the many hours following to the over-1,000 who remained stranded on the unseaworthy vessels.

As darkness fell weather conditions began to deteriorate and the situation became increasingly delicate.

“Every day people continue to risk their lives while we, as civil society, stand witness. We must continue to call on European governments to act so that people, such as those rescued by us today, do not die, not in Libya nor in the Mediterranean Sea,” said Regina Catrambone, MOAS Co-Founder and Director.

This unprecedented situation serves as evidence of the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the Central Mediterranean.

MOAS Founder, Christopher Catrambone saud: “Nobody has ever seen anything like what we are witnessing this weekend. It is a miracle that we have managed to rescue everyone with no casualties today. We are still conducting operations with a new boat contact spotted early this morning. The professional conduct and tireless efforts of our crew are to thank for the many lives saved today.”

Nobody answering MAYDAY

The NGO Alarm Phone, whose volunteers man a rescue line for migrants attempting the Mediterranean crossing, said countless maritime emergencies had unfolded in the Central Mediterranean over the weekend.

“Thousands of people remain in situations of acute distress as European actors fail to support the large-scale Search and Rescue operations carried out by the NGOs.

“Despite the anticipated surge in sea crossings via Libya, adequate rescue capacities remain absent – and it is only due to the courageous NGOs in the area that we have, so far, not learned about any major shipwrecks. They are, however, beyond their capacity, and both the Iuventa and Sea-Eye have urgently signalled MAYDAY and requested support from the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Rome.”

The Iuventa has taken in hundreds of people and cannot navigate anymore while many migrants remain on distressed vessels near them that, at any moment, can overturn.

“However, nobody seems to respond to their urgent MAYDAY signals,” the Alarm Phone said.

“European actors refuse to deploy rescue capacities, they want the sea to kill and to function as a gruesome deterrent. They fail not only to assist, they viciously seek to criminalise those who struggle against mass death at sea. We as the Alarm Phone, who were involved in two distress situations ourselves this weekend, call for an urgent deployment of Search and Rescue assets to prevent another catastrophe at sea.”