Migrant boat ‘spends hours in distress off Libyan coast’

Adapted from Euronews- A rubber boat carrying around 100 migrants spent hours in distress off the Libyan coast on Sunday as officials ignored calls for assistance, according to search and rescue groups. Pilotes Volontaires, which provides aerial observation support to NGOs carrying out rescue operations at sea, reported on Sunday evening that it had received information that the vessel had been rescued.

However, it said later reports suggested that it was unclear if the Libyan Coast Guard officials who inspected the vessel had actually taken the migrants with them. The Libyan and Italian coast guards did not respond to multiple requests from Euronews for comment.

Pilotes Volontaires originally spotted the vessel around noon CEST on Sunday.

It informed the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome, but was told the case was being referred to Libyan authorities who weren’t responding.

After six hours had passed, the helicopter had to return to its base to re-fuel and there was still no sign of any rescue effort.

“At this time we don’t know if the people will be rescued,” the group wrote on Twitter.

German NGO Sea Watch, which is working with Pilotes Volontaires, had urged the Italian Coast Guard to rescue the boat, last seen stranded north of the Libyan city of Zuwarah.

“This is a clear case of non-assistance,” Sea Watch spokesperson Ruben Neugebauer told Euronews on Sunday afternoon.

“The Italians were the closest MRCC [Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre] we could reach… We’ve tried everything to reach the responsible authorities. They know about it and they know they have to act”, he said.

Neugebauer said the lack of action by the Italian Coast Guard was “irresponsible”.

“There’s a boat in distress, there are people in distress and there cannot be time passing by. Even if a rescue is organised now it will take some time to get there… It’s irresponsible of the MRCC, which is obviously under pressure from the Interior Ministry.”

Earlier this year, Libya officially took ownership of a large area of the sea migrant route into Europe for search and rescue operations.

NGOs said the move, backed by the European Union, would block asylum seekers from reaching safety.