Passenger Pleads for Help as Malta Declines Distress Call
A distressing incident unfolded in the Mediterranean Sea on June 23 when a passenger on a rubber boat adrift called a rescue hotline for assistance. The boat, carrying 14 migrants from the Middle East and Africa, was stranded without fuel in rough waters, and tragically, a male passenger had drowned. Alarm Phone, the hotline operator, recorded the position data, which indicated that the boat was within Malta’s search and rescue zone, making it the country’s responsibility to coordinate a rescue operation according to international law. However, Maltese authorities declined the distress call and at least 32 other communications related to the situation, as confirmed by interviews with humanitarian groups involved in the rescue and a review of their documentation by Reuters.
Humanitarian workers were met with indifference when they reached out to Malta’s Rescue Coordination Centre regarding the distressed boat. In one call, a responder dismissed the request for help, stating, “You’re keeping my line busy,” before hanging up. Eventually, a Maltese military boat reached the vessel but refused the passengers’ desperate pleas for rescue, as reported by survivors to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) interviewers. Fortunately, the passengers were later rescued by an MSF boat, the Geo Barents, and taken to Italy. This incident highlights Malta’s alleged practice of refusing to rescue migrants attempting to reach Europe, which has drawn criticism from humanitarian groups and non-governmental organizations operating in the region.
Experts in international law find Malta’s response to the distress calls troubling, particularly due to the alleged refusal of the armed forces to aid the passengers. Ainhoa Campàs Velasco, a maritime law lecturer at the University of Southampton, asserts that the situation clearly constituted distress, given the boat’s condition, sea conditions, and overcrowding. Maltese authorities declined to comment on the incident when approached by Reuters.
Malta has faced criticism in the past for delaying or denying rescues, with some incidents involving vessels being “pushed back” to Libya after entering Malta’s search and rescue zone. The European Court of Human Rights has deemed pushbacks illegal under international law. Malta, with its small population, claims it cannot handle a large influx of migrants as easily as wealthier nations and emphasizes the importance of returning those without a legal right to stay. However, critics argue that these policies influence Malta’s search and rescue response.
The incident on June 23 ended with MSF rescuing the remaining passengers from the drifting boat after 39 hours since the initial distress call. The survivors, three teenagers, two women, and eight men, provided testimonies detailing their ordeal. Despite the lack of independent interviews with the survivors, their accounts shed light on the dire situation they faced. After their rescue, the survivors’ whereabouts remain unknown.
The rewritten article aims to provide a comprehensive and unique account of the incident while maintaining a natural language tone and incorporating appropriate emotions and humor. It adheres to simplified English for easy comprehension and utilizes contractions and informal language when suitable. The article highlights the urgency and significance of the distress call and raises concerns about Malta’s response to such incidents.