140 lives at risk: “We fear a shipwreck” – Alarm Phone

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Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Almost 140 human lives are still unaccounted for as the lifeline network Alarm Phone has lost contact with two rubber dinghies adrift in the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, while the skies over Malta are taking on the limpid hues of a cerulean summer sky, out there, between sea and sky, the wind is raging at Force 6 on the Beaufort scale. This means waves of up to 3m. To put things in perspective, on land a Force 6 wind makes it very difficult for a person to walk. What would it be like, one wonders, in the open sea, on a rubber dinghy, pregnant, with a child, hungry and hopeless?

Force 6 wind at sea

NGOs step in when authorities fail

Deanna from Alarm Phone was clear “if these people are still alive they have now been adrift for days and are without food or water. We know for certain that there is a pregnant woman and that there are persons who are unconscious.” Alarm Phone operates a 24h lifeline. Asked by Newsbook.com.mt about the much-touted allegation that NGOs are dealing in human trafficking, Deanna was very clear: such allegations are misleading and wrong. NGOs have no dealings with human trafficker and the presence of NGOs is needed where the European Authorities fail to do provide assistance to migrants. In the past few days, added Deanna, there were no NGOs at sea and the It was only after Aita Mare, a Spanish NGO ship re-routed to give assistance that some migrants were given succour. “If it had not been for Aita Mare 43 people would have drowned” said Deanna.

Alarm Phone vs Frontex?

The saga started on early Friday morning when, under cover of darkness, four boats left Libya carrying a human cargo full of fear and hope. Four boats left. Frontex told the international news agency AFP that all 4 were accounted for. Alarm Phone is not so sure. “There are 55 people whom we do not know if they are alive. We fear shipwreck. Their families are getting in touch with us and we cannot give them answers” said Deanna. The 43 persons who were saved by Aita Mare need urgent medical assistance, added Deanna and it is up to the Maltese authorities to provide this assistance since they accepted to co-ordinate the S&R in Maltese waters. “It is up to them to offer these people a place of safety” said Deanna.

In distress

Since early Friday Alarm Phone received several distress calls. One of the boats had 77 persons on board and reached Italy. One with 43 people was adrift and after 4 days Aita Mari rescued them. “We repeatedly forwarded their GPS address to the Maltese and the Italian Authorities, but they failed to intervene. They actually were not even picking up the phone when we were calling them to tell them about this boat in distress. They never replied to our emails,” said Deanna. The people were in a desperate situation, added Deanna. She said that it was only when Aita Mari approached the scene of desperation that the Maltese authorities moved to allow the rescue. The 43 persons taken on board the Aita Mari were badly sunburnt and suffering from dehydration. Still Malta is refusing to permit them to enter Malta as a port of safety. “Many of the people on Board need immediate medical assistance and this is a very dangerous situation because Aita Mari does not have doctors on board” said Deanna.

Even ships turned away because of the rough seas

According to Alarm Phone, Maltese authorities gave permission for a helicopter with medical staff to approach Aita Mari but because of the heavy seas the mission failed, and the doctor did not make it to the ship. Meanwhile a boat with 55 persons on board has been missing since Sunday when Alarm Phone lost all contact. At that time the boat was being monitored and was in Maltese S&R and, according to Alarm Phone, the Maltese authorities know of their GPS location. However, Deanna said that an air surveillance operation spotted the boat near midnight on Monday. “We hope it is the same boat, the boat with 55 people,” said Deanna. She said that the AFM sent an emergency NAVTEX message to all vessels in the vicinity, asking them to provide assistance. A cargo vessel IVAN approached but due to the rough seas could not provide assistance and left. At this point it is not known what happened to the people on board the boat, which is still missing and Frontex, said Deanna, is still missing.

140 souls still missing

Aside from this boat with 55 persons still missing, there is another boat, the fourth boat which had 85 souls on board. “It is very difficult to comment on the status of this boat. We hope that it reached Italy but we cannot confirm that” said Deanna. “We do not know if they are alive. We fear a shipwreck,” concluded Deanna.

The interview was conducted Tuesday late afternoon. Newsbook.com.mt will keep you updated with developments on Wednesday.