The Malta Independent 18 April 2024, Thursday
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Activists: Slow response led to 30 migrant deaths

Associated Press Tuesday, 14 March 2023, 07:55 Last update: about 2 years ago

An activist network that supports rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea is accusing Italy of failing to offer timely assistance to a smugglers’ boat in distress, resulting in a deadly shipwreck that left at least 30 migrants missing and presumed dead in Libya’s search-and-rescue area.

Seventeen survivors were rescued in an operation about 100 miles off the Libyan coast Sunday partially coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard. The incident comes two weeks after another shipwreck off the coast of southern Italy left at least 79 people dead.

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The wrecks have focused attention on Italian and European protocols for responding to suspected smuggling boats; crossings through the deadly central Mediterranean Sea have doubled over past year.

The migrants in the most recent incident died when their wooden boat capsized as a merchant vessel, the Froland, approached the boat in distress that was carrying nearly 50 people.

Alarm Phone, which notifies authorities of migrants in need of rescue, said it had notified Italian, Libyan and Maltese authorities of the boat’s location, and emphasized that it was in danger due to high waves. It claimed that the migrants died due to “deadly nonassistance by the Italian authorities" noting that the same boat was spotted nine hours after its initial report by another group that operates surveillance flights.

“This delay, one of many systematic delays Alarm Phone has documented over the years, proved to be deadly,” the organization said Sunday. “They would be alive if Europe had not decided to let them drown.”

Italy has denied failing to respond to migrant boats in distress, and Premier Giorgia Meloni will answer questions in parliament this week on Italy's response to the shipwreck two weeks ago off Calabria. Italian authorities brought more than 1,000 rescued migrants to Italian shores over the weekend.

Regarding Sunday's shipwreck, the Italian Coast Guard said it asked three merchant vessels to respond to the emergency after Libyan authorities notified them that they were not able to. Another boat was already in the area and in direct contact with Alarm Phone.

The Froland, which was the first to arrive, rescued 17 survivors. It was bringing two of them to Malta for urgent medical care and would continue to Italy with the other 15.

Commercial ships are continuing the search for the missing migrants, assisted by aerial surveillance flights operated by the European border control, Frontex, the Italian Coast Guard said.

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