A rubber dinghy packed with 91 migrants that set out from Libyan shores in hopes of reaching Europe has apparently gone missing in the Mediterranean, the U.N. migration agency said Thursday.
AP reports The inflatable boat carrying mostly African migrants departed from al-Qarbouli, 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of the capital Tripoli on Feb. 8, said Osman Haroun, whose cousin was on board. He hasn’t heard from the 27-year-old Mohamed Idris, or his 10 other friends also on the boat, since.
Alarm Phone wrote “We are writing to you because we fear that a shipwreck occurred last week, on 9th February 2020, off the Libyan coast and we would like to kindly ask your cooperation in clarifying the situation with details around the rescue operations and search flights of the day. Families of people who left that day are reaching out to Alarm Phone reporting missing relatives, and we need to give them clear answers about the fate of their loved ones.”
Hours later, around midnight, RCC Malta rescued 84 people on a rubber boat further North, in position 34°26’N, 13°56’E. Both the Libyan Coast Guard and the NGO vessels Aita Mari were on the scene of the rescue.
We have reasons to believe that the boat rescued by the Armed Forces of Malta is not the same as the distress case we were informed of, because of the distance between the distress situation and the actual rescue, as well as because of the composition of the group that was rescued. In addition, families are reporting missing relatives who departed that day, and fishermen reported to us that they spotted floating life-vests, gas tanks and clothing in the distress area.”
“It’s the first time I’ve heard of this happening,” Haroun told The Associated Press by phone from the western coastal district of Zawiya, where he has lived with his family since fleeing the conflict-ridden Darfur region of Sudan in 2016.
Alarm Phone passed the SOS to Italian and Maltese authorities and to the Libyan coast guard, an EU-trained force criticized by human rights groups, which patrols Mediterranean waters and intercepts migrants to keep them from reaching European shores.
The Libyan coast guard took five hours to respond to Alarm Phone’s urgent request, and said it dispatched two ships to search for the missing vessel, without providing evidence.
Alarm Phone lost contact with the boat over two hours later, when it heard people panicking, saying the engine had failed. Migrants were slipping into the sea, they told the hotline, as water flooded the shrinking dinghy.
“For sure something bad has happened,” said Haroun.
The International Organization for Migration cross-checked search and rescue records from Italy, Malta, Libya and the non-governmental Aita Mari rescue ship, but could not match the missing migrant boat with any recent interceptions or rescues.
Italian, Maltese and Libyan authorities did not respond to requests from The Associated Press for information about their rescues. Frontex, the EU border agency, said it deployed a plane to search for the missing boat.
Authorities have also yet to respond to requests put forward by Alarm Phone on Monday.
Both Alarm Phone and IOM say they fear the worst.
Via AP / Malta Independent / Alarm Phone
Photo Alarm Phone