This factsheet outlines a summary of the distress cases witnessed in June 2022 by Sea-Watch’s Airborne Operations with the aircraft Seabird 1 and Seabird 2.(1) In June 2022 we flew in the Maltese Search-and-Rescue (SAR) zone only, conducting 12 operations with a total flight time of 69 hours and 2 minutes. We spotted 29 boats, carrying around 1.190(2) persons in distress. Unfortunately, due to the illegal restrictions put into place by the Libyan Civil Aviation Authority(3), Airborne was not able to monitor the Libyan Search-and-Rescue (SAR) zone and the human rights violations occurring there.
Overview of boats in distress and empty boats spotted (4)
Maltese Search-and-Rescue (SAR) Zone
11 boats in distress, 612 persons, were rescued by the Italian authorities or arrived independently to Lampedusa, Italy
1 boat in distress, 96 persons, was rescued by the merchant vessel Aslihan, transshipped to the NGO vessel Sea-Watch 4 and disembarked on 28.06. in Porto Empedocle, Italy
2 boats in distress, around 114 persons, were intercepted by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard (in the Maltese SAR zone!) and pulled back to Libya, presumably after coordination by Frontex
1 boat in distress, 23 persons, was rescued by the NGO Vessel Sea-Watch 4 and disembarked on 28.06 in Porto Empedocle, Italy
1 boat, around 30 persons, likely arrived independently to Sicily from Benghazi
The outcomes for 11 boats in distress, around 272 persons, are unknown
Details and outcomes for boats in distress and empty boats
On 14.06., Seabird 1’s crew spotted 6 boats in distress in the Maltese SAR zone, with around 177 persons on board. 1 boat arrived autonomously in Lampedusa. The outcomes for the other boats remain unknown.
14.06., distress case E, around 15 persons: an US-American Army ship in the vicinity, unknown outcome. Seabird 1’s crew spotted a boat in distress carrying around 15 people without lifevests, and informed the authorities. The US-American Army vessel General Frank Besson was in the vicinity, but did not assist the distress case and headed South. The outcome for the case remains unknown.
On 15.06., the Libyan JRCC informed our ground crew via phone about an interception of 90 people by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. Additionally, Seabird 1’s crew spotted 9 boats in distress in the Maltese SAR zone, with around 472 persons on board. 5 boats were rescued by the Italian authorities or arrived independently in Lampedusa, Italy. The outcomes for the 4 other boats remain unknown. Further, Seabird 1’s crew sighted the so-called Libyan Coast Guard vessel Ubari in the Maltese SAR zone, though with no intercepted persons visible on deck.
15.06., distress case G, around 80 persons: fishing vessel assisting people in distress, NGO vessel stabilizing the situation, Italian Coast Guard rescuing the persons more than 7 hours after the first alert. At around noon, Seabird 1’s crew spotted a wooden boat carrying around 80 persons, possibly with two decks, and informed the authorities accordingly. A fishing vessel was close by, supplying the people in distress with water but remaining unresponsive to our aircrew. The NGO sailing vessel Nadir reached the distress case in the late afternoon, sending out a mayday relay (8) and asking for immediate support. At the same time, the Frontex aircraft Osprey 2 orbited above the position of the boat in distress. The Nadir confirmed that the people in distress were rescued by the Italian Coast Guard in the evening.
18.06., distress case Q, 29 persons: European authorities ignoring their duty to coordinate a distress case, civil society again filling this gap. On 18.06., when Seabird 1’s crew spotted a boat in distress and informed the authorities, the civil sailing vessel Nadir was already on scene and sent out a mayday relay on behalf of the people in distress, asking for immediate assistance. 10 hours after the issue of the mayday relay and without any support from any state authority, the situation of the people in distress deteriorated to the point that the Nadir took them on board. On 20.06, after the rescued persons had already been on board for more than 40 hours and despite several requests to authorities for assistance, which all remained unanswered, the Sea-Watch 4 assessed the situation on board and confirmed that it was better equipped to take care of the people. The 29 persons were eventually embarked on board the Sea-Watch 4. Between the first alert about the distress case to authorities and the transshipment to the NGO vessel, 50 hours passed without any reaction, not to mention support from any state authority.
18.06., distress case S, 14 persons: illegal interception of a boat in distress by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard at the boundary of the Maltese and Tunisian SAR zones. Seabird 1’s crew sighted the so-called Libyan Coast Guard leaving the scene after intercepting persons and setting fire to an empty boat in the Libyan SAR zone. Later Seabird 1’s crew spotted a boat carrying 14 persons on board without lifejackets and saw the so-called Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat Sabratah approaching, already with a full deck of more than 100 persons from previous interception(s). The aircrew had to witness how the so-called Libyan Coast Guard illegally intercepted the 14 persons outside the Libyan SAR zone. The Frontex aircraft Osprey 2 orbited the position before and during the interception. We therefore have to assume that Frontex again coordinated a pullback to Libya. (9)
18.06., distress case T, 96 persons: merchant vessel left alone by European authorities after rescue of a boat in distress, transshipment to the NGO vessel Sea-Watch 4. Seabird 1’s crew spotted a double-decked wooden boat carrying 96 persons in distress in the Maltese SAR zone. The mechant vessel Aslihan was close by and acknowledged the distress call made by our aircrew, changing course towards the boat. After completing the embarkation of the 96 persons, the Aslihan asked both the Italian and the Maltese RCCs for instructions but was left alone without support. On 19.06., the NGO vessel Sea-Watch 4 headed to the Aslihan in order to assess the situation on board the merchant vessel, since no assistance had been given by any state authority. The Sea-Watch 4’s medical team confirmed that the guests were in need of medical treatment which could not be provided by the Aslihan. As the better equipped vessel, the Sea-Watch 4 then embarked all 96 people safely on board. The people were disembarked on 28.06 in Porto Empedocle, Italy.
19.06., distress cases U and V, respectively around 9 and 99 persons: Frontex exceptionally sending out mayday relays for two boats. On 19.06., Seabird 1’s crew overheard two mayday relays in the afternoon from Frontex, with two positions in the Maltese SAR zone. Around two hours after the mayday relays, Seabird 1’s crew sighted the persons in distress in the Maltese SAR zone, still without any rescue capacities in the vicinity to support them. Seabird 1’s crew then also sent out a mayday relay on the radio for distress case V, which remained unanswered. The people aboard both distress cases were ultimately rescued by the Italian authorities and disembarked in Lampedusa, Italy.
19.06., distress case W, around 30 persons: severe case of non-assistance, shift of responsibility between Malta and Italy, a merchant vessel standing by, dangerous journey from Benghazi to Sicily. The people in distress called the initiative Watch The Med – Alarm Phone in the late morning, which informed the authorities and Seabird 1. Seabird 1’s crew then sighted the persons in the Maltese SAR zone in the early evening. A merchant vessel, the MTM Hamburg, flying the flag of Singapore, responded to Seabird 1’s call and headed towards the boat. Seabird 1’s crew supported the merchant vessel on their way to the people in distress, flying and orbiting above them. Refusing to undertake its duties and shifting the responsibility to Italy, the Maltese RCC then ordered the MTM Hamburg to standby instead of rescuing. During the night, the ship’s master informed the ground crew that he had been released by RCC Malta from monitoring the people in distress and could head again to his intended destination, despite the people still being in distress at sea. The people arrived autonomously on 20.06 to Sicily.
20.06., distress cases X and Y, respectively 22 and 23 persons: Frontex involved, joint rescue efforts by civil actors. In the afternoon, Seabird 1’s crew sighted the persons in distress of case X in the Maltese SAR zone. The NGO vessel Louise Michel (10) was already on scene and stabilizing the situation. Later, Seabird 1’s crew overheard a position being relayed via radio and sighted another boat in distress, case Y, at the given position. As a vessel in the vicinity with the capacity to assist, the NGO vessel Sea-Watch 4 changed course to the position. Due to the distress situation, Sea-Watch 4’s crew then rescued the persons during the late afternoon. The people in distress case X were escorted by the Louise Michel, eventually being rescued by the Guardia di Finanza and disembarked in Lampedusa, Italy. Based upon open sources, Frontex’s aircraft Osprey2 was also on scene with both cases after Seabird’s crew.
30.06., distress case AB, around 100 persons: interception by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard in the Maltese (!) SAR zone, likely coordinated by Frontex. (11) In the afternoon, Seabird’s crew sighted the so-called Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat Sabratah pursuing a boat with around 100 persons on board, in the Maltese SAR zone. Seabird’s crew reminded the so-called Libyan Coast Guard via radio that they were in the Maltese SAR zone and therefore have no authority in this area. No one responded. Upon the arrival of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard to the scene, the persons in distress stopped their engine. The so-called Libyan Coast Guard then deployed a RHIB (12), that they however did not use to intercept the persons. Instead, they drove around the patrol boat in circles at high speed, close to the boat in distress. Even after the interception, the RHIB kept driving in circles. (13) Seabird’s crew observed the so-called Libyan Coast inspecting the empty wooden boat and burning the vessel. The people were pulled back to Libya.
This boat in distress matches with previous orbits from a Frontex drone in the Libyan SAR zone, in the early morning and at noon. It is therefore likely that Frontex again coordinated a pullback to Libya.
In June 2022, we must assume that the European Coast Guard Agency Frontex was involved in the narratives for at least 7 boats in distress, concerning around 347 persons, sighted by Seabird 1’s crews in the Maltese SAR zone. Four of the boats in distress were rescued by the Italian authorities and disembarked in Lampedusa, Italy. One boat was rescued by the NGO vessel Sea-Watch 4 and disembarked in Porto Empedocle, Italy. Two boats were intercepted by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard in the Maltese (!) SAR zone and pulled back to Libya.
In June 2022, Seabird 1’s crews spotted 16 empty boats. Two empty boats match with the boats of the distress cases G and T, which were sighted by Airborne on the days prior. Due to markings, another empty boat could be matched with a rescue conducted by the NGO vessel Aita Mari. (14) Also due to markings, 4 other empty boats are believed to be the remains of rescue operations conducted by the Italian authorities. One boat is the remains of a likely interception by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard in the Libyan SAR zone. The outcomes for 8 boats remain unknown.
These operations highlight once again:
- the deadly consequences of European migration and border policies
- the systematic non-assistance by European Member States and their delegation of rescue operations to the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, even from the Maltese SAR zone
- the participation of Frontex in interceptions and pullbacks undertaken by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard
- the continuous involvement of merchant vessels with boats in distress at sea due to a failed politics of migration in Europe
- the unjustified and systematic delays by European Member States in fulfilling their obligations to conduct and coordinate sea rescue in their Search-and-Rescue zones
- the need for NGO vessels in the Central Mediterranean Sea in order to uphold the law and save human lives
(1) Since 2017, together with the Swiss NGO Humanitarian Pilots Initiative, Sea-Watch monitors the Central Mediterranean Sea, currently with its aircraft Seabird 1 and Seabird 2.
(2) These numbers are based upon the estimations of Seabird 1’s crews as well as numbers which the initiatives Watch The Med – Alarm Phone and Mediterranean Hope-FCEI have provided to us.
(3) Since the beginning of March, the Libyan authorities illegally deny entry to the Libyan Flight Information Region (FIR) for our airplanes Seabird 1 and Seabird 2. See Airborne Monthly Factsheet for the months of February and March 2022.
(4) Three empty boats were sighted in the Libyan SAR zone, from the Maltese SAR zone.