Desperate plight of 59 people in abandoned craft

Falmouth Coastguard are currently trying to assist 59 people who were cast adrift in an inflatable boat off the coast of Libya late last night.

One of the people had a satellite phone and called an Ethiopian man in the UK. He called the UK coastguard.

Falmouth Coastguard (station pictured) immediately rang the satellite number given to them by the caller and discovered from an English speaking female on board the raft the true extent of their difficulties.

On board are 15 females, of which 4 are pregnant, 7 children and 37 men. The craft is taking water and it has no engine. The weather has worsened. They have no food or water. The people were dumped into the leaky craft by a commercial vessel at night after being held in store until darkness fell.

They had had all their money taken from them. They had been told they were in Italian waters and were told they were heading for Lampedusa, a Sicilian island, when in fact they were inside the Libyan search and rescue region, some 64 nautical miles from the North African coastline.

It appears they had left from North Africa two days ago trying to get to Europe. The woman also indicated that the battery on their phone was failing.

The Coastguard were able to get a location of the craft and were able to identify that the vessel is within Libyan search and rescue waters but have been working with both the Italian and Maltese authorities to get assistance to the craft. Despite every effort, including help from the British Embassy in Tripoli, the Libyan authorities were unable to be contacted.

Further information identified that there were no US or UK military vessels within 150 miles of the raft’s position that were able to assist.

By 6.00 a.m. this morning in a further call to the raft, the Coastguard identified that it had a drifted some way and that the Italian authorities who are also dealing with a similar incident in their waters elsewhere may be able to assist. The Maltese authorities are similarly reluctant to take over search and rescue given the craft is within another country’s jurisdiction.

A widespread alert and mayday signal to all shipping in the area is now being broadcast from Falmouth Coastguard in an effort to get a merchant ship to render assistance if they can. So far just one vessel has responded.

Simon Rabett, Rescue Centre Co-ordination Manager said

“This is a truly awful episode in human trafficking. We recognise that both the Italian and Maltese authorities have more experience in dealing with this sort of situation in the Mediterranean seas than we do, and we are endeavoring to work with all authorities to try and bring some form of humanitarian assistance to these desperate people.”