27/10: Alarm Phone in contact with boat in distress in the Central Med with 180 travellers on board, rescue confirmed

27.10.2016 / 09:01 / Central Mediterranean Sea

Watch The Med Alarm Phone Investigations – 27th of October 2016

Case name: 2016_10_27-CM89
Situation: Alarm Phone in contact with boat in distress in the Central Med with 180 travellers on board, rescue confirmed
Status of WTM Investigation: Concluded
Place of Incident: Central Mediterranean Sea

Summary of the Case: On Thursday, the 27th of October 2016 at 10am, the Alarm Phone was informed by Father Mussie Zerai about a boat in distress in the Central Mediterranean Sea, with about 180 travellers on board, among them many women and children. We tried to call the travellers via their Thuraya satellite phone, but did not reach them immediately. At 10.26am, we realized that their Thuraya’s credit was only 0.25 units and we recharged it with 20 units. At 10.30am, we called again and were able to speak with two of the travellers in distress. They were very desperate and screamed for help, fearing that they would all die. We ask them to provide us with their GPS position, however, we were not able to instruct them how to do so. At 10.44am, we called them again and tried to calm them down. They told us that they could see a white vessel and we informed them how to behave in case of a rescue operation. Beyond that, we were told that one person on board had already died. In another call at 11.10am we learned that water was entering their boat and that it was loosing air. We explained to the travellers that we check and charge the credit of their satellite phone regularly and asked them to call us back if their situation changed. Briefly afterwards, one of the travellers called us back and we tried to explain to her again how to receive the GPS position from their satellite phone. Although we managed to navigate through the phone’s menu together, the service remained unavailable. We agreed that she should try again after we had finished the call and tries to send the position to us via SMS. After this call, we recharged their phone with another 50 units. At 11.30am, the travellers were able to forward to us at least the direction they were heading to, 330°, thus in North-Western direction. Beyond that, they informed us that they had left Libya in the city of Sabratah at 3am in the morning and that their satellite phone’s battery was very low in the meantime. We decided to inform the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre of the Italian coastguard in Rome, although we were still not in possession of the boat’s GPS position. We called MRRC Rome at 11.45am and forwarded all information we had obtained so far and additionally wrote a e-mail to the Italian coastguard. At 11.56am, the travellers called us again and asked if we had alerted to coastguard. They asked to send a helicopter to search for them and restated their situation of distress. In another call at 12.18am, the travellers asked us how long it would take until they were rescued and we suggested that it might take some time. We asked them to go further North, as their boat’s engine was still running, and urged them to keep calm and confident. In the following two hours, we stayed in contact with travellers and regularly checked and charged their Thuraya’s credit, yet we were not able to receive their GPS position. Meanwhile, we tried to establish contact to the civil rescue vessels SEA WATCH 2 and IUVENTA, in order to determine if they had received rescue commands from the MRCC. At about 1pm, MRCC Rome wrote an e-mail to us, informing us that they had also tried to reach the travellers on their satellite phone, but without success. Shortly afterwards, the travellers informed us that they had seen a helicopter flying above them. Thirty minutes later, the told us that they had discovered a blue-white vessel in the distance and were heading in the direction of this vessel. At 2pm, we received the positions of both SEA WATCH 2 and IUVENTA. At 2.20pm, the travellers told us that the vessel they were heading to was coming closer to them. We thought that this might be the IUVENTA, however, at 1.35pm, the crew of the IUVENTA called us and informed us that they were not in sight of a boat in distress in that moment. In the following two hours, we continued to regularly call the travellers’ satellite phone but we were not able to establish connection to them again. At 2.30pm, we received another e-mail from MRCC Rome. They were still trying to reach the travellers and informed us kindly about their attempts. At 3.42pm, we called the Italian coastguard again and MRCC Rome was finally able to confirm to us that a rescue operation of the boat in question had just started. In another call to MRCC Rome at 11.39pm, the officer confirmed to us that the boat in question had indeed been rescued. We asked if there had been dead people on board, as the travellers had informed us about a traveller who had died on board. The officer replied that this could only be determined after the rescue vessel had arrived in Italy. In a press release, the Italian coastguard reported later on that 933 travellers had been rescued on that day in 8 different rescue operations, with three bodies being recovered. Yet unfortunately, we were not able to determine if one of the bodies has been on board of the boat we had been in contact with.
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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