03 dec 2019

The death toll from a migrant boat sinking off Lampedusa last month has risen to 18 as divers recover additional bodies from the scene.

On November 23, a migrant vessel with about 170 people on board went down about 1.5 nm off the island of Lampedusa, the nearest EU land feature to Libya. The Guarda Costiera responded to the scene and rescued 149 people, including 13 women and three children.

“There are people . . . whose actions make us seriously believe that Italy is still a great country, capable of welcoming and saving lives. Proud to represent these discreet and silent heroes [Guarda Costiera],” said Paola De Micheli, Italy’s transport minister, in a statement after the rescue.
Several bodies were found shortly after the sinking, and Guarda Costiera divers have been working to locate more. The effort was paused for several days due to foul weather, but it resumed over the weekend, and on Sunday the team found four more under the surface and another afloat.

The fatalities add to the list of about 1,150 migrants who have died so far this year while attempting to cross the Mediterranean, the majority on the Libya-to-Italy route.

Libyan forces board PSV

On Saturday, Libyan forces boarded the German PSV OOC Panther in the central Mediterranean in order to extract 30 rescued migrants, according to the Evangelical Press Service (epd).

SOS Méditerranée and Medecins Sans Frontieres told epd that on Saturday, the OOC Panther rescued 30 people at a position 70 nm off the Libyan coast. The Panther called for the assistance of SOS Méditerranée’s dedicated migrant rescue vessel, the Ocean Viking. 

Before Ocean Viking’s team arrived, an armed Libyan Coast Guard boarding team came onto the OOC Panther and attempted to muster the migrants off for a return to Libya. Two jumped over the side and one prepared to light himself on fire in order to resist capture. The Libyan forces departed alone after their initial interdiction attempt, according to EPD, but later returned and took all 30 migrants back to Libya.

France cancels RIB delivery

After opposition from human rights NGOs, the French government has decided not to proceed with donating six fast RIB boats to the Libyan Coast Guard.

In general, European assistance to the Libyan government’s maritime forces has been oriented towards migrant interdiction. The Libyan Coast Guard exclusively returns rescued migrants to detention centers in Libya, where they face a well-documented risk of physical abuse. In April, eight NGOs sued the French government to prevent the delivery of aid to Libyan forces, citing the high probability of negative human rights repercussions.

“The situation in Libya does not permit the offer of these boats,” an official at the French defense ministry told AFP.


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