The Malta Independent 2 February 2023, Thursday
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Tuna Pen migrants relive ordeal in documentary

Malta Independent Sunday, 26 August 2007, 00:00 Last update: about 10 years ago

A documentary to be aired next week interviews 18 of the 27 migrants whose tale of having clung to tuna pens being towed by a Maltese-commissioned trawler captured international political and media attention last May.

The migrants, who were eventually rescued from a three-day ordeal clinging for dear life to tuna nets by an Italian naval vessel, which entered the search and rescue area of an unresponsive Libya to do so, relive their horrific experience in detail.

The incident had earned Malta harsh criticisms from European media and politicians alike, many of which felt Malta should have assumed responsibility for the situation, despite the fact that it had occurred in Libyan waters.

Exposed to the harsh elements while the crew of the vessel, the Budafel, refused them boarding and shelter, the migrants interviewed tell how they had sung to keep themselves alive and how, just before being picked up by the Italian navy vessel Orione, many had simply wanted to put an end to it all.

One female survivor, Justice, recalls, “When we began shouting that we could no longer continue clinging to the nets, the fishermen lengthened the tow ropes… they did not want to hear us yell, nor did they want to let us aboard.”

The migrants – hailing from Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, Ghana and Togo – are temporarily settled in Caserta, Italy.

One migrant says the group, who at the time were strangers to each other, had already been at sea in a half-sinking wooden dinghy for a week when they came across the trawler and its pens.

But matters became insupportable while clinging to the nets. He adds, “We began to sing and pray together to keep our spirits up… and to prevent anyone from throwing themselves in the water.”

Adama, from Burkina Faso, recounts, “Our legs had swollen because of the water and the ropes we had used to tie ourselves to the tuna pens.”

The Budeafel’s crew meanwhile watched from a distance for an alleged three days. One survivor claims the only sustenance given them by the crew was 20 apples. “They said their vessel would sink if we all boarded, but this was evidently a lie.”

Fellow migrant Justice, who says she had originally intended staying in Libya, recounts, “I had escaped from religious persecution and I had thought a Muslim country would have been the right place. But they (the Libyan police) robbed me more than once and took my visa away in the end.”

The group left from Zwara, a common exit point for migrants leaving Libya for Europe, after having been given a small wooden boat and no guide.

“They showed us how to hold the handle of the engine and said to just keep going straight,” another migrant remembers.

“At that point we no longer wanted to leave, but we were threatened…we had seen too much by then.”

The first migrants booking their places, Justice explains, had paid USD1,200 but as the time of departure drew near and a few places were still left, latecomers such as Justice were only charged USD500.

The interviews will be aired next week on satellite channel Tg Interculturale and will also be on the Internet at migranti.

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