06/12: Two boats in distress in the Central Mediterranean rescued by the Italian coast guard

07.12.2016 / 10:15 / Central Mediterranean Sea

Watch The Med Alarm Phone Investigations – 6th of December 2016

Case name: 2016_12_06-CM94
Situation: Travellers in distress between Libya and Italy, rescued by the Italian coast guard
Status of WTM Investigation: Concluded
Place of Incident: Central Mediterranean Sea

Summary of the Cases: On Tuesday, the 6th of December 2016, The Alarm Phone was alerted, via Father Mussie Zerai, to two boats in distress in the Central Mediterranean Sea. In both cases Father Mussie Zerai had already informed the Italian coast guard.
At 3.54am we learned about the first vessel, carrying 156 people, and we were forwarded their satellite phone number and their position, showing that they were north east of Tripoli. The vessel had departed from around Tripoli between 1 and 2am. By monitoring the credit on the satellite phone, our shift team could see that the boat was in regular contact with others. We recharged the credit several times, which allowed the travellers to continue making calls. At 4.55am we informed the Italian coast guard about the vessel via email. At 5.20am we reached the travellers for the first time, and they gave us a new position, showing that the vessel has moved further north. We immediately called the Italian coast guard and passed on the new coordinates of the boat, and they informed us that they are working on the case. At 7.20am we spoke with the travellers again, and again we obtained a new position, which we passed on to the Italian coast guard. The new position showed, that the vessel was now heading west, indicating that the vessel had lost its direction. At 8.35am we passed on the information we had to the Maltese coast guard; they took the information, but stated later on that the Italian coast guard was responsible for this rescue operation. From around 9.30am we could no longer reach the travellers, and by monitoring their credit we could see that they were also not in contact with others.
At 11.25 Father Mussie Zerai alerted us to a second vessel in distress on its way from Libya to Italy. He didn’t know their exact position, but forwarded their satellite phone number. At 11.36am we reached the travellers, but communication was almost impossible. Their phone was almost out of credit, so we recharged it to allow them to make calls, and by monitoring their credit we could see that they were regularly in contact with others. At 12.28am we reached the boat again, and this time we learned that they were a group of around 100 travellers, amongst them women and children, travelling on a white plastic boat. We also managed to get their position. After this call we immediately called the Italian coast guard and passed on the coordinates of the vessel, and they informed us that they were searching for the vessel. From around 2.30pm it was no longer possible to reach the travellers, and their credit stopped decreasing.
In both cases the Italian coast guard refused to give us information about the rescue operation, but in the evening we found a newspaper article stating that 473 travellers had been rescued by the Italian coast guard today in five different rescue operations.
Last update: 16:48 Jan 15, 2017
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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