The rubber yacht had set off yesterday from Sabrata, taking the lead of a break in the bad weather to make an attempt for Italy’s seashores
Aboard The Astral: Waves 2.5 meters high, winds of 50 kilometers an hour and a tumbling dinghy – rescuers termed today a race into Libyan waters to save 113 migrants, with 15 others who lost to the intense sea.
The white rubber yacht had set off yesterday from Sabrata, taking the lead of a break in the bad weather to make an attempt for Italy’s seashores, but the 130 or so people onboard soon ran into trouble when the wind whipped up.
“It became hellish”, stated AFP photographer Aris Messinis, who is onboard the Astral, a vessel leased by Spanish humanitarian NGO, Proactive Open Arms, which patrols the area looking for boats in distress.
As night began to fall the anxious migrants sent a grief call to the Italian coast guard, which sent the Astral their way, along with the Phoenix, run by the Maltese NGO MOAS, and the Iuventa, run by the German NGO Jugend Rettet.
The Phoenix’s drone succeeded to pinpoint the ship 8 nautical miles off the Libyan coast, some 4 miles inside Libyan waters and therefore in an area off-limits to foreign rescue vessels.
Several NGO boats have been shot at or boarded by armed men for having sailed too close to Libyan waters this year.
In September the Libyan coast guard arrested 2 Germans from the NGO Sea-Eye, accusing them of having crossed into its territory.
Often rescue boats have had to wait for overloaded dinghies to get into international waters before they intervene. But last day night, it was clear this one was not going to make it.
“We stated to the Libyan coast guard that we were arriving no matter what because the boat was sinking, and they finally accepted,” Messinis stated.
A MAOS spokesman established the rescue operation took place in Libyan waters, explaining that it was a rare occurrence, it had occurred at least once before, several weeks ago, and another time with the Libyan coast guard’s permission.
By the light of their floodlights, the rescuers managed to pull out 113 people including 89 men, 11 women, 11 teenagers and two younger children.
But survivors expressed MOAS that there had been some 130 people aboard originally. The list of the missing includes a 16-year old girl, 5 adolescents and a little boy who had been soon to turn three.