Multiple NGOs are involved in an unfolding situation in the Mediterranean with a small boat overloaded and drifting with as many as 400 migrants caught in rough seas. The groups are reporting that one merchant vessel went to the boat’s aid but the NGO contends they were ordered not to rescue the individuals. They contend that other merchant vessels have passed by the boat in distress while Italy and Malta delay efforts to rescue the individuals.
The situation began overnight on April 9 when one of the NGOs, Alarm Phone, said it received a call from the migrants requesting assistance. The monitoring organization reported that the boat had departed Tobruk, Libya loaded with 400 people including women and children. Sea-Watch International said if it were not for NGOs such as itself forcing state authorities to act, migrant boats such as this would not be rescued.
Sea-Watch reported that its reconnaissance airplane was able to spot the boat on April 9. They relayed the position which was drifting north in the Mediterranean into the Ionian Sea between Malta and Italy in a shared rescue zone. According to their reports, the boat had run out of fuel and the captain had abandoned the vessel. The migrants were reportedly bailing water with buckets from the lower deck.
As the day progressed, Alarm Phone issued several updates via Twitter saying that the people aboard the boat were panicking. At one point the said three people had jumped into the water fearing the boat would capsize. In various reports, they said people were unconscious, required medical attention, and were in a serious condition. Alarm Phone relayed information from the migrant which said there were children, a pregnant woman, and a person with a physical disability all aboard the boat.
Sea-Watch released a picture of the overloaded boat and a second of the product tanker approaching to provide assistance (Sea-Watch International)
The migrants reported seeing at least one merchant ship in the area that did not respond to calls for assistance. Alarm Phone speculated the vessel was the Maersk Bintan, a 3,200 TEU containership, but its AIS data placed the vessel likely to the west in the Malta anchorage before departing for Rotterdam today.
Sea-Watch is reporting that there were two merchant ships in the area but they contend officials in Malta asked the vessels only to supply the boat with fuel and water and not to undertake a rescue. Sea-Watch is identifying a product tanker, the FMT Urla (14,355 dwt) registered in Malta, as the one that supplied the water and fuel to the small boat.
With the boat drifting in the shared area, the NGOs alleged that Malta was waiting as it thought the vessel would drift toward Italy. Early today, Alarm Phone said it had received information from the Italian Coast Guard that it was sending its patrol boat, the Diciotti, to the small boat. As of late today, the NGO contends that the Italian vessel has not arrived leaving the migrants in danger.
Weather conditions are reported to be worsening in the area. Sea-Watch this morning said the seas were running with waves up to five feet with CNN reporting that the last known position was about 170 miles southeast of Capo Passero, off the coast of Calabria.
The NGOs are questioning the delay in reaching the boat saying that the risk that it will capsize remains high.