The 116 people rescued in recent days by the Ocean Viking, belonging to the NGO Sos Mediterranée, arrived in the Sicilian port of Augusta at 12:30 on Wednesday. They reached land in the late afternoon, after being swabbed: six of them tested positive for coronavirus and all of them will be in quarantine. The minors were taken to a center of Trapani, the adults stayed on the ship GNV Allegra. The crew is currently waiting for indications from the Office of Maritime and Border Health (USMAF) of Augusta to know if they will have to remain in medical isolation on board.
The ship, which had received the indication of the port where to disembark at 22:30 on Tuesday night, is moored a few meters away from the Sea-Watch 3, subjected since Sunday to administrative detention following yet another port state control conducted by the Coast Guard.
On the Ocean Viking, there were 35 men, 10 women and 71 minors (including 51 unaccompanied), found in the middle of the sea in two different operations. The first one ended on the morning of Thursday, March 18: 10 people, all of Libyan nationality. It was unusual intervention, requested by patrol boat P-301 of the Libyan GACS (General Administration for Coastal Security), which then took the eleventh man on board and towed the fiberglass boat on which the migrants were traveling to shore.
“I come from Zuwara, a small coastal town, and my family belongs to a Berber minority,” one of the rescued people, a Libyan man of 48 years who was traveling with his family, told the crew of the Ocean Viking. “We are a small, isolated community, we have been mistreated, our property has been looted, our lands burned … we have nothing left.” The man, a former social science teacher and father of three children aged 9, 10 and 13, says the situation in the country continues to worsen and there is no guarantee of security.
“Now guns are everywhere and everyone has them,” he says. “As soon as there is a problem, they are brought out. It’s the same everywhere. As soon as there’s a fight, guns are pulled out. If you go out on the street, you can get shot, you can be driving your car and get hurt. It can happen anywhere, at any time.”
The second Ocean Viking rescue brought 106 people traveling in an “overcrowded and unsafe” inflatable boat to safety. Half were unaccompanied minors. The boat had requested help from the Alarm Phone switchboard and was located by the humanitarian vessel on the morning of Saturday, March 20. The operation ended shortly after 11am.
Also on Wednesday, some ten kilometers away to the south-west of Augusta, a re-examination hearing was held for the case of the ship Mare Jonio belonging to Mediterranea Saving Humans, in which Beppe Caccia, Luca Casarini, Alessandro Metz, Pietro Marrone and four other people are under investigation. They are accused of aiding and abetting illegal immigration for having transported and then disembarked in Italy 27 migrants who were on the Maersk Etienne off the Maltese coast. The authorities in La Valletta had denied them permission to land for 38 days: the longest standoff in history for a SAR event.
According to the prosecution, this operation was supposedly carried out for money, but in the investigation phase no evidence was found that would prove a prior agreement between the Maersk and the Mediterranea. For this reason, the computers and cell phones of the suspects have been seized. The only evidence at the moment is a bank transfer paid by Maersk—but, as the suspects point out, only many months later and as a form of support to the humanitarian organization.
The prosecutors have also questioned the veracity of the medical reports that led to the transfer of the migrants to the Mare Jonio. On this point, some news emerged during the hearing. Three migrants were deposed by the police during the investigation, and their testimony gave horrifying details of the treatment to which they had been subjected until a few days before taking to the sea, in the hell of the Libyan detention centers.
On this basis as well, the defense lawyers, Gaetano Lanfranca and Serena Romano, underlined the real condition of need in which the rescued people were in. On the other side, present in the courtroom were the chief prosecutor of Ragusa, Fabio D’Anna, and the substitute prosecutor Santo Fornasier, who confirmed the indictment plan and petitioned to maintain the seizure of assets. The court will issue a ruling in five days.