09/03: Travellers in distress in the Western Mediterranean Sea, confirmation of their rescue after 5 days!‬

10.03.2016 / 13:24 / Western Mediterranean Sea

Watch The Med Alarm Phone Investigations – 9th of March 2016

Case name: 2016_03_09-WM86
Situation: Travellers in distress in the Western Mediterranean, confirmation of their rescue after 5 days!
Status of WTM Investigation: Concluded
Place of Incident: Western Mediterranean Sea

Summary of the Cases: On Wednesday, the 9th of March 2016, the Alarm Phone was alerted to a boat in distress in the Western Mediterranean Sea. At 11:40pm we received a call from a contact person with a Moroccan number. The contact person was on a boat and told us that they had left Tanger at 6pm. They were in panic, because water was entering the boat. The connection was bad and broke off before we could learn more about the group and their situation. We tried to call the travellers back, but our calls did not go through. At 11 past midnight, the travellers called us again. They told us that their engine had stopped working. They did not have a satellite phone and were not able to give us their exact position, but they said that they were probably still in Moroccan waters. They asked us to call the authorities, even if that meant the Moroccan Navy. We decided to call the Spanish Search and Rescue Agency Salvamento Maritimo and explained the situation to them. They took the number of the person on board and promised to take care of the case. At 00:33pm we sent an e-mail to Salvamento Maritimo as well as to the UNHCR and CEAR: At 1.06am, the travellers called us again. They were afraid of drowning. They told us that they were 8 persons - 7 men and 1 woman. 2 people had lost consciousness. We passed on the information to Salvamento Maritimo. The officer on duty explained that they had already sent a rescue boat to the area. They had also alarmed the Moroccan Navy. They promised not to stop looking. However, neither the Coastguard, nor we managed to join the travellers. At 3am we called Salvamento Maritimo again asking about the situation. They told us that they were still looking for the boat. Two and a half hours later they were still searching and asked us to call them back only if we had updated information for them.

Throughout Thursday morning, we attempted to get in touch with the travellers, but without success. At 2.30pm, we reached out to Salvamento Maritimo again. Unfortunately, they had no news for us. On marinetraffic we could see that a Spanish helicopter was searching for a boat. Even though we did not manage to talk to the travellers, we called Salvamento Maritimo again at 6.35pm. Then we had to learn that they had stopped the rescue operation. The officer on duty suspected that the case was either based on false information or that the people were back in Morocco. At 7.24pm we called the Moroccan Coastguards to ask if they had any information about the whereabouts of the boat.
They could not tell us more than the person from Salvamento Maritimo.
We then tried with friends in Tanger and also called the police, but no-one knew about the travellers. At 7.49pm, we called Salvamento Maritimo again, because we thought that the boat could have possibly drifted from Cap Spartel, from where it had left further south. We wanted to ask if the rescue operation had also looked further south. The person on duty asserted that the helicopter had searched the whole area, also further South. Throughout the night, we kept trying to reach the travellers, but only reached their voicemail. The same throughout Friday and Saturday.
Within the network and with other solidarity groups, we discussed the case and searched the media for news. Finally, on Sunday, 5 days after we had first been alerted to the case, a friend in Tanger managed to reach the travellers: The boat had drifted back to Morocco and all 8 passengers had survived and were back in Tanger. They recounted what had happened to them after they had left Morocco on Wednesday evening:

Three hours after their departure, the weather had changed and strong winds had started to blow. The situation on board was awful. They were afraid and the woman lost consciousness. They could see the Moroccan cost line and a searchlight up in the mountains, but it was too far away to reach it. They called Salvamento Maritimo, but could not communicate, as the agents did not speak any French. So they called the Alarm Phone and waited for rescue. As everyone was really afraid, they agreed on calling the Moroccan Navy as well. The Moroccan Navy called them back and asked for their position. They tried to describe their point of departure, but found it difficult to describe their position.
There were other boats close to them. They tried to draw attention by shouting and by giving light signals, but no one came toward them.
One time, a big boat passed not even 300 meters away from them, but again the people on board of the big ship did not react to their attempts to call for help. They could see neither the Moroccan Navy nor the Spanish authorities, but they were in touch with both. The Spanish advised them to continue with the light signals, but the batteries of the mobile phones went out after a while. When we told them that a helicopter was looking for them, they were really surprised, as they could neither hear nor see it.
The situation on the boat got worse as water started to enter the zodiac, and everyone was tired and exhausted. They stayed put and waited. On Thursday, around the time of the morning prayer around 5 o’clock, they could see the lights of a fishing port. Wind and currency dragged them back to Tanger. When they got closer to the land, they started to shout and people heard them. The police helped to bring them in, and lit a fire as everyone was suffering from the cold. They were transferred to the central police station, where they were registered, but then they were released, as they were too weak to be deported.
Credibility: UP DOWN 0
Layers »
  • Border police patrols
    While the exact location of patrols is of course constantly changing, this line indicates the approximate boundary routinely patrolled by border guards’ naval assets. In the open sea, it usually correspond to the outer extent of the contiguous zone, the area in which “State may exercise the control necessary to prevent infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws” (UNCLOS, art. 33). Data source: interviews with border police officials.
  • Coastal radars
    Approximate radar beam range covered by coastal radars operating in the frame of national marine traffic monitoring systems. The actual beam depends from several different parameters (including the type of object to be detected). Data source: Finmeccanica.
  • Exclusive Economic Zone
    Maritime area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea in which the coastal state exercises sovereign rights for the purposes of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, the seabed and its subsoil and the superjacent waters. Its breadth is 200 nautical miles from the straight baselines from which the territorial sea is measured (UNCLOS, Arts. 55, 56 and 57). Data source: Juan Luis Suárez de Vivero, Atlas of the European Seas and Oceans
  • Frontex operations
    Frontex has, in the past few years, carried out several sea operations at the maritime borders of the EU. The blue shapes indicate the approximate extend of these operations. Data source: Migreurop Altas.
  • Mobile phone coverage
    Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) network coverage. Data source: Collins Mobile Coverage.
  • Oil and gas platforms
    Oil and gas platforms in the Mediterranean. Data source:
  • Search and Rescue Zone
    An area of defined dimensions within which a given state is has the responsibility to co-ordinate Search and Rescue operations, i.e. the search for, and provision of aid to, persons, ships or other craft which are, or are feared to be, in distress or imminent danger. Data source: IMO availability of search and rescue (SAR) services - SAR.8/Circ.3, 17 June 2011.
  • Territorial Waters
    A belt of sea (usually extending up to 12 nautical miles) upon which the sovereignty of a coastal State extends (UNCLOS, Art. 2). Data source: Juan Luis Suárez de Vivero, Atlas of the European Seas and Oceans

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