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NGO's ‘beautiful co-operation’ saves 120 lives off the coast of Libya

THE “beautiful co-operation” between NGO rescuers today saved the lives of over 100 people fleeing Libya across the central Mediterranean.

One of the 120 people on the rubber boat this morning managed to contact the refugee distress hotline network Alarm Phone, whose activists then alerted the maritime authorities and the nearby NGO refugee rescue ship, the Ocean Viking.

The Ocean Viking managed to reach the people this afternoon before the EU-supported Libyan coastguard could intercept them.

“We were at sea since a few days, the weather was bad, as soon as the weather improved, departures occurred,” said Sophie Beau, general director of SOS Mediterranee France, the NGO that operates the ship.

“Many of the survivors arrived on the Ocean Viking exhausted, soaked and cold,” Ms Beau told the Star.

“They started to recover once they were provided with dry clothing, water and food. Many suffered from nausea, headaches and body pain due to the difficult journey.”

The Ocean Viking only returned to the central Mediterranean last week after spending five months barred from leaving the Italian island of Lampedusa following the rescue of 181 people last July.

Other escapees from Libya’s conflict and the country’s widely condemned migrant detention centres were not so lucky today.

An Alarm Phone activist told the Star today that around 120 people on two other boats had been pulled back to Libya by the coastguard.

“One of the boats was in waters between Zuwara and Zawia. There were 50 people on board but unfortunately the so-called Libyan coastguard arrived before the Ocean Viking and intercepted them and brought them back to the Libyan hell they were escaping from.

“Sometimes it’s really a matter of minutes between life and death, or between freedom and torture in Libya.”

The second boat, which was north of the Libyan town of Garabulli (also known as Castelverde) and carrying around 70 people, had also been in contact with Alarm Phone before it was intercepted.  

“They were in acute distress; the waves were really high,” the Alarm Phone activist told the Star.

“We alerted the Ocean Viking and the authorities, but the Ocean Viking was too far away. They were also taken back to Libya unfortunately. But we are glad that they’re alive as they were in a very dangerous situation.

“We’re very glad that at least 120 people were rescued, and we hope they will get to a safe disembarkation point soon, but it’s a shame that two boats were captured and taken back to Libya.

“We are really happy when there are not only NGO rescue ships in the sea but also search-and-rescue airplanes, like today when we had both the Moonbird and Pilotes Volunteers up in the air monitoring human rights violations by the Libyan authorities.

“It is really amazing when the civil fleet can be allowed to intervene in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s amazing to see this beautiful co-operation.”

Frontex has yet to respond to the Star’s questions after one of its charted planes, the Osprey 1, was spotted yesterday during the interception of 48 people by the Libyan coastguard.

Both the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and the International Organisation for Migration have repeatedly stated that Libya was not a safe port.

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