14 August 2023, NAPLES: The 76 people rescued in international waters on the night of 11 August by EMERGENCY’s ship Life Support have disembarked in Naples. Among them were seven women and 24 children, including 12 unaccompanied and a seven-month-old baby.
“They had departed from the Libyan coast in an unstable wooden boat,” explains Carlo Maisano, Life Support‘s Head of Mission. “They had been at sea for almost 20 hours when rescue operations began. The engine had failed and the boat had been adrift for five hours.”
The 12-metre wooden boat was first reported in distress by Sea Watch’s Seabird 2, then by Italy’s Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) and finally via VHF on Channel 16. The rescue was coordinated by the Italian MRCC, and conducted in the Maltese Search and Rescue Zone.
“When we carried out the rescue, the wooden boat was stationary and overloaded. We discovered that the hold was empty and this risked unbalancing it,” said Carlo Maisano, Life Support’s Head of Mission. “When operations were over, we received another report from Alarm Phone of a boat in distress, but after 1.5 hours of patrolling we were unable to locate it. The Italian MRCC believed Alarm Phone’s report matched the boat already rescued.”
On board were 76 people mainly from Egypt and Syria, but also Ethiopia and Eritrea: all countries affected by conflict, political and economic instability, and food insecurity.
“The rescued people, who departed from the Libyan coast on the evening of 10 August, told us about serious human rights violations that occur daily in Libyan detention centres,” says Mohamed Hamdi, a cultural mediator on board Life Support. “These are stories that, though individual, contain common elements with the testimonies of others who have fled Libya. From what we are told, violence, extortion, kidnapping and summary executions are commonplace, and often go unpunished.”
“I was in Libya for five months, and four of them I spent in detention centres,” says a 17-year-old Syrian boy. “I tried to cross the Mediterranean seven times, but I was always taken back to Libya and imprisoned. Libyan militias make deals with traffickers to bring us back ashore once we leave, so they know when a boat is leaving and where it is. My family wanted me to go back to Syria, they knew Libya is a very dangerous country and they didn’t want me to get hurt. They knew they were beating us, sometimes with sticks or wires, so they could ask our families for more money. I was alone, I left Syria without my family. It was very hard to resist the temptation to go back, I missed my home so much, but I knew there was no future for me in Syria. Now my family doesn’t even know I’m alive, they took my phone in Libya and I couldn’t contact my mother to tell her that this time, the seventh time I was trying to cross the Mediterranean, I made it.”
“Life Support will move to Augusta to refuel and prepare for the next mission,” concludes Maisano. “We will continue saving lives at sea.”
Life Support is EMERGENCY’s search and rescue vessel and has been operating in the Central Mediterranean since December 2022. Life Support has rescued 943 people so far.