Thursday morning, the Sea-Watch 3 was alerted by our civil search aircraft Moonbird of multiple distress cases and immediately engaged in the successful rescue of 60 survivors on board a rubber boat in international waters. Before conducting a second rescue of 17 people, Sea-Watch found an empty fibreglass boat and witnessed 150 more people being illegally pulled back to Libya, where violent conflict is escalating, by Europe’s partner, the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. A search for another boat in distress, which by that time had reached the Maltese Search and Rescue zone, was concluded in the night of Thursday to Friday, when Sea-Watch found all 42 people on board and conducted its third rescue in one day.
Since its arrival in the search and rescue area north of Libyan waters a week ago, Sea-Watch 3 had been patrolling in very bad weather conditions. In the early hours of 9 January, with weather conditions improving, Sea-Watch was notified of at least 5 separate boats likely in distress nearby. Of those, Sea-Watch has rescued three separate boats with a total number of 119 people on board. The third rescue, conducted in the middle of the night of Thursday to Friday, was of a boat in distress known to the Maltese authorities and armed forces, who claimed responsibility to rescue but then failed to respond in time. When Sea-Watch arrived on scene, it found the 42 people on board at imminent risk of death and was legally obligated to intervene.
On its first rescue mission since being held in port for six months, Sea-Watch has returned to the same realities of EU-supported negligence, violence and criminal behaviour against people fleeing from Libya found at sea; EU policies and dirty deals which have claimed tens of thousands of lives. Upon arrival in the SAR zone north of Libya on 31 December 2019, Sea-Watch 3 was engaged in a search for a boat in distress carrying approximately 45 people, believed by fishermen and Libyan authorities to have been at sea for over 50 hours at the time. A few days later, it appeared to have turned into yet another deadly shipwreck claiming the lives of all on board, when a body washed up on the north coast of Libya.
Since 2017, European maritime rescue coordination centres have systematically stopped taking their legal responsibility for search and rescue efforts, as well as the coordination of rescues, including the facilitation of Ports of Safety in Europe for shipwreck survivors. This has resulted in most rescues conducted by NGO ships in the Central Mediterranean being entirely civil efforts that do not enjoy the resources, information or coordination of the relevant and competent authorities.
On the conditions of the three rescues, Sea-Watch 3 Head of Mission Johannes Bayer says: “ It is a great relief to have found these 119 people alive. This is unfortunately not at all thanks to European state resource deployment. This was a purely civil coordination effort. These people are still alive not because Europe wants them to be, but because despite European policy and the violent behaviour of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard we, and other NGO ships, are still here and still searching for them.”
The aircraft Moonbird is in flight again today and upon its search has already spotted multiple cases in distress. Sea-Watch will remain in the area to continue searching for people in distress and awaits a port of safety for survivors on board.