CATANIA. The Libyan Coast Guard which does not want to intervene “because there is a rough sea”; the appeals to the maritime coordination centers of the area, including Italy and Malta, which have rejected the responsibility of coordinating Search and rescue operations “; the Frontex planes that identify the rubber dinghy from above, but without this transforming into an intervention in the field; the decision of some merchant ships to go independently in search of the shipwrecked, together with the ship of the NGO Sos Mediterranee, Ocean Viking, ten hours away by navigation. It is Alarm Phone, the “migrant switchboard”, to provide a detailed reconstruction of what happened between Wednesday and yesterday in the stormy sea in front of Libya, about sixty miles north-east of Tripoli, which dragged away the lives of about 130 people.
The images of the shipwrecked dinghy with 130 dead in the North East of Tripoli
Probably, when Ocean Viking began the race against time to reach them, the tragedy was already consumed: “Our last contact with those desperate people in danger, was at 21.15 on April 21,” says Alarm Phone. And nothing is known, yet, of another boat, with about forty people on board, that the Libyan traffickers put into the sea in the same hours.
The hour by hour rebuilding of the Alarm Phone.
«On the morning of April 21, the Alarm Phone was alerted by local fishermen of a boat in danger off the coast of Libya. We got the number of a satellite phone, we learn that about 120 people left Al-Khoms around 10pm on April 20 ”. At 9.15 am, the Alarm Phone warns the relevant authorities of the presence of the boat and the worsening of the weather conditions in the area. “Since that moment, the MRCC of Italy and Malta, the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, UNHCR as well as NGO rescuers, know of that boat in danger”.
Dinghy lost in the Mediterranean: over one hundred deaths are feared
Every 10.03, Alarm Phone can talk to people on the dinghy. Communication is bad, as in the next 10.22 call in which you hear only a “call for help!”. At 11, during another call, the Alarm Phone manages to get the GPS coordinates (N33114519 E014074476) and to know that there are about 130 on board, including seven women, one of whom is pregnant. “We immediately inform the authorities and make the case public.”
Flavio Gasperini / Sos Mediterranee
In the following hours, from the dinghy they gradually get the GPS coordinates that change: “The situation on board deteriorates considerably, and people in danger are in great panic, and they tell us that the waves are high and that the water is entering in the dinghy ». Around noon, the Alarm Phone calls the MRCC of Rome to inform him that the freighter Bruna was near the dinghy and could have intervened: «However, the Bruna continued on her route».
All 14.11, the Italian MRCC warns Alarm Phone to have to inform “the competent authorities”, that is Libya. “Only at 14.44 we were able to get in touch with a Libyan officer – reconstructs the Alarm Phone – who tells us that they know about three boats and that they are looking for them with the Ubari patrol boat”. Alarm Phone keeps in contact with the boat and provides the authorities with the new GPS positions at 4.15pm, 5.16pm and 7.15pm. “At 17.53 we receive an email from Ocean Viking, addressed to the authorities and to us, informing them that they have decided to change course and head towards the dinghy in danger”.
All 19.15, from the dinghy they say they saw a plane above them, “which we believe to be Frontex’s Osprey plane”. “At 8.15 pm we reached those people for the last time, they told us that the batteries of the satellite phone were running out.” At 20.52 Alarm Phone calls again the MRCC in Rome «explaining it is difficult to communicate with the Libyans. They replied: “We are doing our job, call if you have information” ».
The Alarm Phone map shows the last detected position of the boat, while the storm was raging at sea
All 22.22, it is also Wednesday 21 April, Alarm Phone finally manages to reach the Libyan authorities: “The Libyan officer told us that they would not continue to look for the dinghy due to the bad sea conditions”, also learning that the Libyan Coast Guard had however brought back 104 people from another boat and also two corpses. “At 22.55 we inform MRCC Italy that the so-called Libyan Coast Guard will not conduct further research.”
All 7.30 yesterday a new call to Rome and at 7.53 “we informed all the authorities once again, asking them to coordinate some merchant ships that are in the area: Vs Lisbeth, Alk and My Rose, as well as Ocean Viking”. At 8.30 “we write directly to Frontex. At 8.49 am they reply as follows: “Frontex immediately relayed the message to the Italian and Maltese authorities” ». Calls to Libya: 10.42 and 11.31, in both cases they reply that they have no news of the dinghy. “They also said that Italy has asked for permission to have a freighter conduct relief operations, permission they gave.” But perhaps it is already too late. “At 17.08 Alarm Phone received an e-mail from Ocean Viking to us and to the authorities with which he informs us that he had searched for the boat together with My Rose, Alk and Vs Lisbeth and that he had found traces of a shipwreck several bodies, with no signs of survivors. Frontex’s Osprey plane was on the scene ». The tragedy has come true.
Flavio Gasperini / Sos Mediterranee