Donnerstag, 6. August 2015

Mediterranean tragedy, the last call before the silence: “Help, we are 600 and the engine room is full of water”

By SALVO CATALANO, Meridionews
The first person to receive the SOS from the fishing vessel that later overturned was the activist Nawal Soufi. “But shortly later the phone stopped ringing”. Doctors Without Borders tell about the rescue operations: “Desperate people trying to hold onto anything to save themselves”. And accuse: “We have been called at 9, but then diverted to another operation, there is a severe lack of resources”.

“Help us, we are 600 people on a fishing vessel and the engine room is full of water, call the rescue service”. When Nawal Soufi, a Moroccan activist living in Catania and engaged for years in welcoming migrants arriving in Sicily, receives this call it is 9.30 of yesterday morning. At the other end of the satellite phone is a young man. One of the hundreds of persons who are travelling on the iron fishing vessel that a few hours later would overturn off the Libyan coast, leaving for ever in that cursed stretch of sea a still imprecise number of human lives. At the moment 25 dead bodies have been retrieved and 373 person rescued. 200 migrants are still missing and this morning the searching operations resumed.

When the ship of Doctors Without Borders (Msf) Dignity I arrived on the place of the tragedy, the volunteers found a scene that they defined “horrible”: “Desperate persons holding onto life vests, boats or anything they could find for trying to save their lives, in the midst of persons drowning or already dead” tells the coordinator Joan Matìas. The Ngo documented the operations with precise images. Among the survivors are also many children. One of them, just a few years old and saved together with his parents, is on board of the ship of Doctors Without Borders on the lap of his mother who kisses his small hands with tears in her eyes. She holds him tight, holding on together to life. The specter of death is now distant.

An Irish military ship, which received the alert from the operation centre of the Coastguard in Rome, was the first to intercept the vessel in yesterday’s late morning about 15 miles north off Libya. The movement of a large number of migrants would have caused the overturn of the fishing vessel when they saw the ship that intervened to rescue them. The first SOS, though, was sent out around 9.30 am. It was received by Nawal Soufi, as it often happened, who earned the nickname Angel of the refugees because of her dedication. But even more importantly, she became the focal point for thousands of desperate people.  Through the word of mouth and the use of social media they know to find help in her, already for the first rescue service. Receiving the alert, the activist immediately called 1530, the emergency number of the Italian Coastguard, and gave the same number to the young man via text message. “I promised him to be there for him until the arrival of the rescuer – writes Nawal – but shortly after that the cell phone did not ring any more and the young man stopped to repeatedly calling me as do most vessels in danger”.
Doctors Without Borders precise in a note that they received a call from the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Rome yesterday at 9, but they then have been diverted to rescue another boat. “This last operation, which rescued 94 persons, terminated around 12.30 – explains the Ngo – the Dignity I has then received another call which urged to return to rescue the first vessel. When arriving, an Irish ship that had reached the location before had already started the rescue operations because the vessel had overturned”. Also other ships on which Doctors Without Borders operate, namely the Bourbon Argos and the My Phoenix that are privately managed through the project Moas, came to the location.

The doctors of Msf gave assistance to ten persons – five were in critical conditions and have been evacuated by helicopter. “The fact that we have been called first to give assistance to this vessel and right after that for another rescue operation demonstrates the severe shortfall of available resources for rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea” notices the coordinator Matìas. “Today at sea we closely experienced a new, big suffering – adds Loris De Filippi, president of Msf – It is imperative that rescue operations get closer as much as possible to the departure zones: Only two days ago five persons died of dehydration after 13 hours on a ship; and today this tragedy just 15 miles away from the Libyan shores. The only solution to end mourning and suffering at sea is to open legal and save ways in order to allow these persons – who are forced to flee from wars and poverty – to find safety without risking their lives”. An appeal launched also by Nawal Soufi: “Humanitarian corridors, humanitarian corridors, humanitarian corridors”.

Meanwhile, another vessel with 381 migrants on board – including 55 women and 26 children from Syria, Bangladesh and the Sub-Sahara – has been rescued a short distance from the shipwreck. The ship sent the alert 30 miles away from Libya, about 15 miles north from where yesterday the shipping vessel overturned. To set course to rescue the migrants was the ship of the Italian Coast Guard “Fiorillo”, which yesterday was committed to rescue survivals of the last tragedy. Until yesterday 1.941people already lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

Translation by Chiara Guccione