This factsheet outlines a summary of the distress cases witnessed in September 2021 by Sea-Watch’s Airborne crews with their two aircraft Moonbird and Seabird. In September 2021 we conducted 11 operations, with a total flight time of 66 hours and 46 minutes. We spotted 460 persons in distress aboard 10 different boats.
Overview of boats in distress and empty boats spotted
Maltese Search-and-Rescue (SAR) zone
- Four boats, with around 240 persons, were rescued by the Italian authorities or arrived independently and disembarked in Italy
- Two boats, with 71 persons, were rescued by the NGO vessel Ocean Viking* and disembarked on 25.09 in Augusta, Italy
- Estimated** number of persons in distress: 311
Libyan Search-and-Rescue (SAR) zone
- One boat, with 25 persons, was rescued by the NGO vessel Ocean Viking and disembarked on 25.09 in Augusta, Italy
- One boat, with around 20 persons, was intercepted and pulled back to Libya by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard
- One boat, with 54 persons, was rescued by the NGO vessel Geo Barents*** and disembarked on 29.09 in Augusta, Italy
- The outcome for one boat, with around 50 persons, remains unknown
- Estimated number of persons in distress: 149
Details and outcomes of the distress cases
13.09., Frontex likely coordinated an interception and pullback to Libya by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. Moonbird’s ground crew observed the track of Frontex’s drone and noticed that it was orbiting in the Libyan SAR zone near the Maltese SAR boundary. Around one hour later, Moonbird’s crew found the so-called Libyan Coast Guard’s patrol boat in the vicinity with around 200 persons on the deck, heading at full speed towards Tripoli. The people were hence likely pulled back to Libya. We must assume that again, Frontex coordinated an interception and consequent pullback to Libya.
On 16.09., Seabird’s crew spotted 4 boats in distress, with 240 persons on board. All of the people were either rescued by the Italian authorities or arrived independently in Lampedusa, Italy.
16.09., distress case A, 39 persons: delay in rendering assistance to a boat in distress by authorities in the Maltese SAR zone, Frontex aircraft involved. In the morning, the people aboard a boat in distress called the initiative Watch The Med – Alarm Phone, which informed the authorities and Seabird. One hour later, a Frontex aircraft was likely on-scene in the Maltese SAR zone, according to the ground crew’s observations. At noon, presumably 3 hours after Frontex, Seabird’s crew arrived on scene. The engine of the boat seemed unstable. Seabird’s crew immediately sent out a mayday relay**** over the radio and informed the port authorities of Lampedusa. On the phone, the Italian authorities referred to the Maltese authorities and hung up on the ground crew. In the end, the people were rescued by the Italian Coast Guard and disembarked in Lampedusa, Italy.
19.09. distress case G, 58 persons: successful rescue operation by NGO vessel with the support of civil actors, civil society again fills the gap left by authorities in the Central Mediterranean Sea. In the morning, the aircraft Colibri 2***** spotted the people in distress in the Libyan SAR. Colibri 2’s ground crew immediately alerted the authorities. In the afternoon, Seabird’s crew spotted the people still unattended by authorities in the Maltese SAR zone, and immediately informed the authorities as well as the NGO vessels Nadir and Ocean Viking. The Nadir****** was only 5 nautical miles (nm)******* away, and changed course towards the people. Due to the lack of deployment of rescue assets by European Member States in the Central Mediterranean, the people had to be rescued by the NGO Ocean Viking and disembarked on 25.09 in Augusta, Italy.
19.09., distress case H, around 50 persons: Frontex drone involved, non-assistance by a merchant vessel. Seabird’s crew spotted the people in the Libyan SAR zone and alerted the authorities. The tubes were inflated but low on the water. Shortly after Seabird, Frontex’s drone was also on-scene, orbiting over the people. Seabird’s crew called the merchant vessel NS Corona, flying the Liberian flag, which stated that they “cannot proceed to the position” since they had “dangerous cargo on board”. The respective shipping company, SCF Management Services Dubai, was unresponsive via phone and email. The insurance company of the merchant vessel, West of England, was also informed but the responsible person was unresponsive on the phone. Almost 2 hours after Seabird’s sighting, the so-called Libyan Coast Guard were observed heading towards the position of the people, around 33 nm away. Seabird sent out a mayday relay again at the end of the afternoon. The so-called Libyan Coast Guard were then spotted again only 12 nm away from the people. A relative later called the initiative Watch The Med – Alarmphone, regarding a case which was matched with this boat. The outcome of this case is uncertain.
In September, Frontex’s drone and aircraft were involved with at least 3 boats in distress – only 2 of which were sighted by Moonbird and Seabird. One was rescued by the Italian authorities and disembarked in Italy. One was intercepted by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard and pulled back to Libya. The outcome for the third boat remains unknown.
In September, the crews of Moonbird and Seabird spotted 7 empty boats, one of which was on fire in the Libyan SAR zone. Another was the result of a completed interception spotted by Seabird and the consequent pullback to Libya. The so-called Libyan Coast Guard set this empty boat on fire as well. The outcomes for the other empty boats are unknown.
* The vessel Ocean Viking is operated by the NGO SOS MEDITERRANEE.
** These numbers are based upon the estimations of Moonbird’s and Seabird’s crew, as well as numbers which the initiative Watch The Med – Alarm Phone, Mediterranean Hope-FCEI, the UNHCR and the IOM have provided to us.
*** The Geo Barents is operated by the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières.
**** A “mayday relay” is an emergency procedure which provides information about a boat in distress via maritime or aerial radio, requesting any asset in the vicinity to assist.
***** The aircraft Colibri 2 is o perated by the NGO Pilotes Volontaires.
****** The Nadir is operated by the NGO RESQSHIP.
******* “Nautical Miles” is the unit of measurement used at sea. 1 nautical mile is equal to 1,852 kilometers.
These missions highlight once again:
- the deadly consequences of European migration and border policies
- the systematic non-assistance of European Member States and their delegation of rescue operations to the so-called Libyan Coast Guard
- the participation of European aircraft and Frontex in interceptions and pullbacks undertaken by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard
- the current non-assistance of merchant vessels due to the lack of a European rescue program
- the need for NGO vessels in the Central Mediterranean Sea in order to uphold the law and save human lives