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New incident in the Mediterranean. Italian and European change of course confirmed

(B2) A new incident pitted an NGO vessel against the Libyan Coast Guard. On Saturday (March 31), it was 10:30 a.m. when theAquarius — the ship chartered by SOS Méditerranée and Doctors Without Borders, the only NGO ship now present off the Libyan coast — receives a call from the Rome Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC) reporting the position of a boat in distress.

Spotted by maritime patrol aircraft

The inflatable boat was spotted by a maritime patrol aircraft from the European operation EUNAVFOR MED, which immediately reported the position of the castaways, to the MRCC in Rome, via its HQ. I'Aquarius diverts to this position. After barely an hour of navigation, he was located by the rescuers.

The rescue supported by the Libyans

But at 11:34, the Rome rescue center informs theAquarius that the Libyan Coast Guard " assume the coordination of operations (the SAR 183 file according to the NGO), and gives " instruction » to theAquarius of " do not interfere and remain in stand-by ". The Italians want to avoid the repetition of the rescue accomplished by the Spanish Open Arms (read: Open Arms Sea Relief Operation. Have all the rules been followed? Who is telling the truth?).

The Aquarius on site before the Libyan star

THEAquarius arrived on the scene before the Libyan coast guard boat, informed the MRCC Rome of the need to stabilize the situation by distributing the life jackets on board the overloaded boat, which continued to approach. The Aquarius then receives a telephone call from the operations center of the Libyan Coast Guard, which declares itself in charge of coordination. The Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat Al Khifra 206, en route to the position, received the same information simultaneously via radio.

No possible evacuation of all migrants

The NGO informs of the emergency and launches its two lifeboats and begins to distribute life jackets, after informing the Libyans and obtaining their authorization. The lifeguards " note the presence of children, including a newborn baby and urgent medical cases - and obtain the authorization of the Libyan coast guard boat to evacuate the most vulnerable cases to the Aquarius ". On the other hand, they are prohibited from rescuing the other passengers of the lifeboat ". 39 people, including a newborn baby, pregnant women and many children with their parents are thus transferred to the Aquarius. while around 90 people are intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya.

Return to Libya priority over relief operations

« The current conditions of rescue at sea, increasingly complicated and with confused and perilous transfers of responsibility during operations, are unacceptable. Lifeboats find themselves forced to negotiate on a case-by-case basis, in the open sea, in a situation of emergency and dangerous tension, the evacuation of people in distress, sick, injured, exhausted, to a place of safety. » storm Francis Vallat president of SOS Mediterranean France. " While the means at sea to save lives are increasingly insufficient, [...] the return of people in distress to Libya is prioritized instead of bringing them to safety ". The NGO calls on the " European and international authorities to urgently clarify the intervention framework of the Libyan Coast Guard in international waters ».

Comment: With good reason... This incident, or misunderstanding between rescuers, some from the government, others from the NGOs, is not a coincidence. For us, this is a decided policy of the Italian government, with the (at least tacit) agreement of the European authorities. Read : Off Libya, has Europe changed its position?


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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).