In this Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2018 filer, the Sea-Watch rescue ship waits off the coast of Malta. A migration official says survivors have told rescuers that up to 117 migrants might have died when a rubber dinghy capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya. Flavio Di Giacomo of International Organization for Migration says three survivors were plucked to safety by an Italian navy helicopter Friday, Jan. 18, 2019 and they say 120 were aboard when the dinghy left Libya. (Photo: AP)
A private rescue boat with dozens of migrants aboard sought permission for a second day to enter a safe port Sunday, but said so far its queries to several nations haven’t succeeded. Another vessel crowded with panicking migrants and taking on water, meanwhile, put out an urgent, separate appeal for help in the southern Mediterranean.
Sea-Watch 3, run by a German NGO, said Sunday it has contacted Italy, Malta, Libya as well as the Netherlands, since the boat is Dutch-flagged, asking where it can bring the 47 migrants it had taken aboard. Sea-Watch tweeted that Libyan officials had hung up when it asked for a port assignment.
An Italian state TV reporter aboard Sea-Watch 3 said the rescue took place Saturday about 50 kilometers (30 miles) off the coast west of Tripoli in Libya’s search-and-rescue area. Libya-based human traffickers launch flimsy or rickety boats, crowded with migrants hoping to reach Europe and its opportunities for better lives.
Separately, Sea-Watch tweeted Sunday afternoon that because it appeared no country’s coast guard had initiated a rescue mission, Sea-Watch 3 was heading toward a vessel with 100 migrants aboard that said it was taking on water.
“We can’t cover by ourselves the Mediterranean, where persons are left to die,” Sea-Watch lamented, estimating that it would take it would take 15 hours of sailing to reach the stricken boat in waters north of Misrata, Libya.
Sea-Watch said news of the migrants’ plight was relayed by another aid group, Alarmphone, which promotes and operates a telephone hotline for use by people in distress at sea.
Quoting Alarmphone, Sea-Watch said the migrant vessel reported navigational problems and that a child among them was “unconscious or deceased,” Sea-Watch said. Subsequent communication said the boat was “taking in water” and seeking assistance, “regardless of what this would mean concerning a possible return to Libya,” Sea-Watch said.
The migrants on the boat subsequently told Alarmphone that they were freezing on the open sea and soon might not be able to keep up communication. Alarmphone tweeted that the migrants were panicking and screaming. “The situation is desperate,” the hotline group said.
The hotline also tweeted that Malta promised to call it back, but ultimately the Maltese only informed it that the Libyan coast guard was busy with three other rescues.
Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who leads an anti-migrant party, told reporters Sunday that Libya had completed the rescue of at least one of those boats, and reiterated its opposition to any role by private rescue groups.
Migrants dread the prospect of being returned to Libya, where they have reported torture including beatings and rapes in overcrowded detention centers.
The governments of Malta and Italy have been refusing to allow private rescue boats rescuing migrants to dock. Both contend that in recent years they have taken in many migrants rescued at sea and that fellow European Union nations must agree to take their share of these asylum-seekers.
Earlier this month, Malta transferred to land 49 migrants who had been aboard Sea-Watch 3 as long as 19 days but refused the boat port entry. They were allowed to set foot on the southern Mediterranean island only after an EU-brokered deal found several countries willing to take them as well as other migrants, who had been rescued at sea earlier in separate operations by Malta.