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400 refugees saved in 72 hours off Libyan coast with no help from European authorities

Rescuers on board the Sea-Eye 4 call for a port of safety to disembark the rescued

CIVILIAN refugee rescuers have saved the lives of more than 400 people in just 72 hours in the central Mediterranean — with no help from the European maritime authorities.

The activist-run emergency hotline organisation Alarm Phone alerted the crew of the Sea-Eye 4 to 50 people in need of rescue on Friday as they reached the Libyan search-and-rescue (SAR) zone.

All they found, however, was an empty wooden boat missing its motor, Kai Echelmeyer, a spokesman for the German charity Sea-Eye, which operates the ship, told the Star today.

Though a reconnaissance plane belonging to the European Border & Coastguard Agency (Frontex) had been circling the boat before the Sea-Eye 4 arrived, it had failed to communicate with the rescuers.

“Everything indicates that the people were illegally pushed back to Libya by the so-called ‘Libyan coastguard’ with the help of Frontex,” Mr Echelmeyer said.

Later that day the crew brought on board two Libyan men who had tried to cross the world's deadliest border in a small motorboat.

“From 11am Sunday to noon today, the Sea-Eye 4 launched five rescue operations and rescued more than 400 people.”

“This shows again the indispensable need of sea rescue in the Mediterranean.”

The ship’s third rescue only happened because the crew spotted a circulating Frontex plane and eventually found about 170 people. Again, Mr Echelmeyer said, Frontex did not notify the Sea-Eye 4 of the distress case.  

“The last rescue, which Alarm Phone alerted Sea-Eye to, took place within Malta’s SAR-zone,” he said. “Nevertheless the European authorities did not communicate with us at all."

“These examples show yet again that Europe’s policy in the central Mediterranean is either letting people drown or helping the Libyans push them back into a country at civil war.”

Having saved hundreds of lives on its maiden voyage, the Sea-Eye 4 is now calling on the European authorities to provide the rescue ship with a safe port to disembark, as international maritime law dictates.

Sea-Eye’s previous ship, the Alan Kurdi, was finally allowed to leave the Italian island of Sardinia last month after spending six months in detention following the rescue of 133 people in October.

Meanwhile, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) warned today that more than 680 migrants had been intercepted and taken back to Libya on Sunday night.

IOM spokeswoman Safa Msheli said on social media today that “support to Libyan SAR entities should be contingent on no-one being arbitrarily detained or subjected to human rights violations.

“Without such guarantees, such support should be reconsidered.”

On Thursday she reported that “nearly 8,000 migrants have been intercepted and returned to Libya so far this year. Today there are only some 4,000 people in official detention centres: thousands are unaccounted for.”

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