At least 30 migrants are missing or presumed dead in the Mediterranean Sea after another boat capsized off the coast of Libya on Sunday, March 12. At least 17 people were reportedly rescued by private merchant ships, in collaboration with European border control agency FRONTEX.
According to reports, the boat had 47 passengers on board and was traveling from Libya to Italy. It capsized around 110 miles northwest of Benghazi, after rescue operations had already begun.
According to a statement issued by the Italian coast guard, the rescue operation—which was delayed due to bad weather—was ongoing with the help of private merchant ships in the region.
However, Alwasat has reported that the rescue operation was delayed as the Libyan authorities had to request that the Italians take over, as they themselves “lacked the means to carry out the rescue.” It was also reported that the migrant boat capsized while there were efforts being made to transfer the migrants on board to the merchant ship FROLAND.
Organizations involved in providing aid to migrants claim that authorities knew that the boat was in distress for several hours, and have accused them of deliberately delaying the rescue. Alarm Phone, an organization that provides support to those attempting to cross the Mediterranean to the EU, had tweeted about the ship being in distress a day before the rescue.
🆘! 47 lives at risk in the Central Med!
Alarm Phone is contact with 47 people in a boat adrift who fled from #Libya. Weather is extremely dangerous and immediate rescue is needed!! pic.twitter.com/w45b5mIzdI
— Alarm Phone (@alarm_phone) March 11, 2023
Sea Watch International also claimed that the authorities knew about the stranded boat for over 24 hours.
Only 17 of the people in this picture were rescued by a merchant vessel, and 30 are missing. The case was known to the authorities for over 24 hours. They just knowingly let them drown. pic.twitter.com/du5qTP6WBA
— Sea-Watch International (@seawatch_intl) March 12, 2023
Sea Watch had issued a statement on Sunday, holding the Italian authorities responsible for the tragedy. It claimed that it had forwarded the GPS coordinates of the distressed boat to the Italian, Maltese, and Libyan authorities on Saturday, and informed them about the situation, as well as requested that immediate rescue operations be carried out.
Alarm Phone stated that rescue operations were undertaken more than nine hours after the distress calls were made, and “still, only merchant vessels—not Italian assets or assets of operation IRINI—reached the scene of distress.”
IRINI, launched in March 2020, handles the European Union’s naval force operations in the Mediterranean.
Critics have blamed the strict rules brought in by the new ultra-right government in Italy in December for the rising number of deaths in the Mediterranean. The new government, led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, ordered all the ships used by charities to rescue migrants in distress to seek a port and sail to it immediately after their rescue missions, rather than continue sailing in search of more distressed boats or individuals. Failure to do so invites heavy fines.
The Italian government has accused charities of encouraging human trafficking to Europe. Italian authorities claimed on Sunday that their coast guard had rescued more than 1,000 migrants over the weekend. However, this is not the first time that their intent and policy have been questioned.
At least 73 migrants died following a shipwreck off the Libyan coast in mid-February. In the last week of February, at least 79 migrants died after their boat collided with rocks off the Italian coast, after being stranded at sea for days. Last week, at least 14 migrants were killed when two boats sank off the Tunisian coast.
According to the UN, more than 346 migrants have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean region alone in the first two months of the current year. According to its Missing Migrants Project, since 2014, more than 26,000 migrants have either died or gone missing in the region, a figure almost half of the world’s total of nearly 54,000.