This factsheet outlines a summary of the distress cases witnessed in October 2020 by Sea-Watch’s Airborne crew from the aircraft Moonbird and Seabird.* In October 2020, due to criminalization measures against Moonbird, we were only able to fly 7 missions, with a total flight time of 61 hours and 05 minutes. We spotted around 217 persons in distress.
Overview of Distress Cases and Empty Boats Spotted
Maltese Search-and-Rescue (SAR) zone
1 distress case was rescued by the Italian Coast Guard and disembarked in Italy
Estimated number of persons in distress: 87
Libyan Search-and-Rescue (SAR) zone
1 distress case was intercepted by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard and pulled back to Libya
Estimated** number of persons in distress: around 130
*Since 2017, together with the Swiss NGO Humanitarian Pilots Initiative, Sea-Watch monitors the Central Mediterranean with its aircraft Moonbird and more recently Seabird.
**These numbers are based upon the estimations of Moonbird and Seabird’s crew, as well as numbers which the initiative Watch The Med – Alarm Phone, the UNHCR and IOM have provided to us.
Details and Outcomes of the Distress Cases
10.10., empty boat, delegation of the duty to render assistance to the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, pullback to Libya. Seabird’s crew spotted an empty boat together with the remains of life vests and other plastic debris in the Libyan Search-and-Rescue (SAR) zone. The crew was able to find a so-called Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat in the vicinity, with around 80 people on the deck. We assume that these people were intercepted shortly before Seabird’s arrival on-scene.
10.10., distress case A, around 130 persons: heavily overcrowded boat with an EUNAVFORMED aircraft on-scene and one merchant vessel waiting for instructions, unresponsiveness of the Libyan authorities. Seabird’s crew spotted a heavily overcrowded rubber boat with around 130 persons on board, in the Libyan SAR zone. The Libyan, Italian and Maltese authorities were informed. The offshore supply vessel Almisan, flying the Italian flag, was informed about the distress situation by Seabird’s crew as the nearest vessel to the scene, but refused to move towards the people in distress and replied that the vessel was “waiting for instructions from the platform” (Sabratha platform, to which it stood adjacent). Shortly after this, the EUNAVFORMED aircraft Pirate was also spotted on-scene. The Libyan authorities were called 13 times about this case: the numbers did not work in 5 cases, and in 5 other cases nobody answered the phone. 1 number worked, but during 3 calls from the Air Liaison Officer (ALO), the communication was very poor and the officer stated that he could not speak English. The ALO still provided him with the coordinates of the distress case, though without any certainty that they were correctly taken. Each time, the officer hung up at some point. The people in distress were later pulled back to Libya by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard.
26.10., distress case B, 87 persons: non-assistance and lack of cooperation by the Maltese authorities. The initiative Watch The Med – Alarm Phone was called by the people on board and alerted the authorities. Moonbird’s crew spotted the people in distress in the Maltese SAR zone. The people onboard were not wearing any life jackets. The ALO called the Maltese authorities 2 times in the afternoon. The first time, the operator said that the duty officer was busy and advised that the ALO call again in 30 minutes. The second time, the operator confirmed that they were working on the case but refused to provide any further information on steps taken to rescue the persons. The persons were rescued in the late evening by the Italian Coast Guard and disembarked in Lampedusa, Italy.
This month, Seabird and Moonbird’s crew also spotted 4 empty boats adrift in the Libyan SAR zone, including 1 which was likely the remnants of a so-called Libyan Coast Guard interception shortly before Seabird’s arrival. The 3 other empty boats could not be matched with any known boats.
These missions highlight once again:
- the deadly consequences of European migration and border policies
- the systematic non-assistance of European Member States and the delegation of rescue operations to the so-called Libyan Coast Guard
- the unjustified and systematic delays by European Member States in fulfilling their obligations to conduct and coordinate sea rescue in their SAR zones
- the need for NGO vessels in the Central Mediterranean in order to uphold the law and save human lives