20/10 Alarm Phone alerted to boat carrying 22 people, returned to Morocco

21.10.2017 / 16:48 / Western Mediterranean, Morocco/Spain

Watch The Med Alarm Phone Investigations – 20th of October 2017

Case name: 2017_10_20-WM169
Situation: Alarm Phone alerted to emergency situation in the Western Med
Status of WTM Investigation: Concluded
Place of Incident: Western Mediterranean Sea

Summary of the Case: On Friday the 20th of October 2017, at 3.26am, our Alarm Phone shift team was contacted by a family member in Morocco about a boat in distress, carrying 22 people, including 2 infants, 5 women and 15 men. They had left from Beni Ensar and were now close to Melilla. Their engine had broken down and we also received a number of one of the boat-people. Minutes later, we called the boat and they confirmed the information and added that they needed help and were able to see the lights of Melilla. They were unable to forward their precise GPS position.

At 3.47am, we reached out to the Spanish search and rescue organisation Salvamento Maritimo in Almeria and they had already received information about this case. In a phone call with the boat-people at 3.56am, they stated that they could not see any vessels in their vicinity. At 4.31am, Salvamento Maritimo reached out to us, stating that they had offered to the Moroccan authorities to send out a helicopter to search for the boat. Following their account, the boat was still in Moroccan waters. At 4.40am, the Moroccan Navy confirmed to us that they were about to give permission for the Spanish rescue operation by helicopter.

At 4.42am we spoke to the boat-people and urged them to remain calm and await rescue. Shortly after, the Spanish authorities confirmed that they were launching the helicopter, stating that it would however be necessary for the Moroccan Navy to also send a rescue vessel. Nonetheless, at 5.31am and at 6.01am, they informed us that they were still waiting for the ‘go ahead’ from the Moroccan side. At 6.28am Salvamento Maritimo said that they would not send a helicopter until the Moroccan authorities would send a rescue vessel. In turn, the Moroccan authorities told our shift team that they would only send out a boat when the sun was rising. At 6.50pm, Salvamento Maritimo said that they would contact the Moroccan side again, and were not willing to send out one of their rescue boats.

At 7.22am, the boat-people stated that they could see a helicopter but that it had not spotted them yet. Their engine was still broken. At 7.30am, we informed the Spanish authorities about what the boat-people had reported. The officer informed us that this was not their helicopter and the Moroccans were reluctant to send out their rescue vessel. Salvamento Maritimo would send out a small boat to monitor the situation and intervene if necessary. At 8.01am, the helicopter was up in the air, near Melilla. At 8.12am, the people on the boat stated that they could not see the helicopter and no vessel in the vicinity. At 8.40am, Salvamento Maritimo said that they had been able to speak to the boat-people and they confirmed that they had seen the helicopter. They hoped to find them in the following 20-30 minutes.

At 9.18am, the boat-people were still not rescued and at 9.32am they stated that they could not see the helicopter. At 10.19am, the helicopter returned to Almeria and at 10.35am, Salvamento Maritimo asked for further information about what the people could see around them. At 11.02am, our initial contact person informed us that they had been detected by the Moroccan Navy. It was then confirmed to us that boat-people had been returned to Morocco.
Last update: 10:49 Oct 29, 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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