Report. The boat contacted volunteer emergency crews Monday, but the vessel seems to have vanished without a trace north of Zuwara, in Libyan territorial waters. Governments have been slow to join the search.

50 men, women and children missing at sea since Monday

The last time the boat was able to contact the Alarm Phone platform was a little after 10 p.m. on Monday:

“About 50 people, including men, women and children, on a boat off Libya called the Alarm Phone yesterday, at approx. 10pm CEST. We got info from them, incl their GPS position,” the volunteers who work at the emergency telephone service for migrants explained on Twitter on Tuesday. “Communication with them was difficult, and was re-established only once, at 10.02pm.”

The boat seems to have vanished without a trace north of Zuwara, in Libyan territorial waters. Despite this, according to Alarm Phone, attempts to alert the authorities in Tripoli and call on them to intervene to rescue the migrants fell on deaf ears. “Since last night, we tried to reach the so-called Libyan coastguards tirelessly on several phone numbers. When we informed MRCC Rome about the unavailability of the Libyan authorities, a number was passed on which we had already tried several times, without reaching anyone!” tweeted the Alarm Phone volunteers.

No one knows what happened to the people who were on the boat.

Since Alarm Phone tweeted the news that the boat was in trouble, the only NGO ship still present in the central Mediterranean, the Alan Kurdi vessel belonging to the German NGO Sea Eye, started a search operation, but as of Wednesday evening it had been unable to find any trace of the missing boat.

“It always happens like this: the news of the emergencies only become known if Alarm Phone sounds the alarm, or if there is a ship belonging to some NGO ready to intervene. Otherwise, the authorities never say anything,” said Riccardo Gatti, the mission leader for the Spanish NGO Open Arms, which the Madrid government has been keeping from returning to sea operations for several months now.

Tuesday afternoon, the Italian Coast Guard wrote in a statement that it had “immediately forwarded” the information received from Alarm Phone in the morning to the Libyan Coast Guard, while the latter “confirmed the receipt of the information supplied for the purpose of subsequent actions which are of their competence.”

However, it seems that Tripoli has failed to send even a small patrol boat to search for the missing boat. The Libyan Coast Guard had some “clarifications” to make in the evening, issuing a statement in which it argued with the NGOs without giving any useful information on the fate of the people who were on the boat. “The report received was incomplete,” said Admiral Ayob Amr Ghassem, spokesman for the Libyan Navy. “We received an alert from the Italian side, according to which the boat was located 45 miles east of Zuwara and the Italians had received a distress call, without any further information. We decided not to respond to illusory and incomplete requests.”

Only four days ago, Brussels reiterated that Libya cannot be considered a safe country for migrants, and no ship belonging to the Sophia European mission has taken those rescued back to Libya. What’s more, the same fact was emphasized again Tuesday by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) headed by the UN, which has described the conditions of the camps in which the migrants are detained “arbitrarily” as “unacceptable and inhumane.”

For a year now, since the start of the delegitimization campaign against the humanitarian NGOs, EU member states have been doing everything they can to prevent ships from humanitarian organizations from being present and bearing witness to what was happening in the Mediterranean. After the activities of the Spanish NGO Open Arms were stopped, now the ship Sea Watch 3, belonging the German NGO Sea Watch but flying the Dutch flag, is being targeted. While the ship is being held in Marseilles, where it has been undergoing maintenance work which have been finished for some time now, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure has passed a measure which entered into force Tuesday, requiring vessels involved in the search and rescue operations to have all the proper gear in case they need to accommodate migrants on board for long periods, as a result of the closure of the ports.

“We cannot be held accountable for the current state of inhumane standoffs at sea,” said Johannes Bayer, the president of Sea Watch, on Tuesday. “Instead, this situation is a damning indictment of certain European states who are abusing their powers. In any next rescue, another long standoff may be likely, but still unacceptable. Blocking us for ‘safety’ concerns in a standoff is a fundamentally illogical argument when the alternative is that people are left to drown.”

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!