Surviving migrant speaks of death on the high seas

Newsbook.com.mt gives a voice to this harrowing experience

Newsbook.com.mt can exclusively reveal a recording of one of the survivors of the Easter week pushback to Libya ordered by the Maltese government and conducting using a Libyan-flagged fishing vessel. The survivor, who was onboard the dinghy that drifted within Maltese territorial waters for several days around last Easter weekend, says, in a recorded interview, that when they were taken on by the fishing vessel Mae Yemenja, most passengers were too weak to eat and drink. The Mae Yemenja was registered till 2019 in Malta to a company owned by Captain Charles Grech. It is now registered under a Libyan flag.

The passengers had left the Libyan coast on Thursday 9th April having spent five days at sea when they were eventually picked up by the fishing vessel Mae Yemenja in the early morning of 14th April. In spite of the fact that they had been spotted in Maltese territorial waters several times after Easter Saturday and they were adrift a mere 80 nautical miles off Malta, no boat was dispatched to provide the passengers with any assistance.

Conflicting testimonies

According to witnesses from the Mae Yemenja crew who testified at the inquiry conducted by Magistrate Joe Mifsud, the bodies of 7 people were found on the boat at the time of rescue. Five of them were taken on board before the dinghy foundered, dragging two more bodies down with it.

The account of events by survivors who were pushed back to Libya is different from that of the crew. They confirm that three migrants died on board the fishing boat as it was taking survivors back to Libya. The migrants recall that seven bodies were never recovered and were lost at sea. Five of these migrants had already jumped in the sea to their death when they despaired of rescue and four died on the boat before the fishing vessel came to rescue, with only two being taken on board the fishing boat.

The account of this woman, which is being given a voice by Newsbook.com.mt, says that many passengers were too weak even to eat, suggests that passengers needed urgent medical attention after serious exposure to the elements, extreme dehydration and having ingested no food in almost a week. They had severe physical and mental conditions including burns as was also confirmed in an email by UNHCR in Tripoli attached to the acts of the inquiry.

Inquiry draws a blank

However, none of the witnesses to the Joe Mifsud inquiry say that any call for urgent medical aid was made by the crew of the Mae Yemenja. Instead, the fishing vessel went ahead with its 24-hour journey to Tripoli unloading 5 bodies the crew say they recovered from the dinghy on the Libyan shore.

A report by blogger Manuel Delia quotes another survivor saying that not all 5 bodies belonged to people who were already dead when the Mae Yemenja took them on board. The survivor is quoted as saying that three passengers died en route to Libya. There was no mention of this in the testimonies given to the Joe Mifsud inquiry.

Magistrate Joe Mifsud did not interview any of the survivors of the push-back incident.