Italy’s Coast Guard Rescues Hundreds of Migrants in ‘Chaotic’ Few Days at Sea

The Italian Coast Guard said on Monday that it had dispatched rescue operations for two overcrowded boats, carrying a total of about 1,200 migrants, in the Mediterranean Sea, capping a busy few days for the service and fueling concern about the volume of people attempting the dangerous crossing from Africa to Europe.

Since Friday, the Italian authorities said that they had rescued about 2,000 people from boats that had found themselves in distress — not counting the two operations announced on Monday — as rough seas made the journey particularly perilous.

Organizations monitoring such crossings have raised concerns about the high number of migrants fleeing war and poverty who are risking the journey across the Mediterranean. Calls have increased for Europe as a whole to find a more coherent way of dealing with the sea arrivals and to devote more resources to the problem.

With different countries enacting a patchwork of responses, migrant-rights advocates say that lives are being put in danger.

“The situation is completely chaotic,” said Felix Weiss, a spokesman for Sea-Watch International, a German organization that runs rescue ships in the central Mediterranean. The number of sea arrivals has surged in recent months, he added.

More on Italy

  • Silvio Berlusconi Is Hospitalized: The 86-year-old businessman-turned-politician, now a senator, was admitted to an intensive care unit in Milan. His personal physician later linked the hospitalization to a lung infection related to leukemia.
  • A Government Ban: Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has ordered municipalities to stop certifying foreign birth certificates for same-sex couples who used surrogacy.
  • Shaking Up Politics: Elly Schlein, the daughter of Italian and Jewish American parents, wants to remake Italy’s center-left opposition to Meloni — if only her party can survive it.
  • Aging, With Robots: In Italy, the Western world’s oldest population is facing a crisis of caregivers. Now, some are looking to robots for a helping, plastic hand.

Though Italian authorities have carried out rescues, they come amid a debate in Italy about how to handle the arrivals. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has promised to enact a “naval blockade” against the migrant boats, arguing that what is needed is a crackdown on human traffickers. Ms. Meloni has tried to force charity-run ships to rescue migrants and then return to an Italian port after each mission, hampering the number of migrants they can help in one go.

In the announcement on Monday, the Italian Coast Guard said that rescue vessels had intercepted a fishing boat carrying around 800 people about 120 miles southeast of Syracuse, a city in Sicily. The coast guard called that rescue a complicated endeavor because of the intense overcrowding onboard.

The authorities added that a ship had also been sent to help another boat, carrying about 400 people, experiencing difficulties about 170 miles southeast off the Calabrian coast of southern Italy. That boat, which left the Libyan port city of Tobruk about six days ago, first sent out a distress call on Sunday to Alarm Phone, an organization that works to ensure migrants in danger are rescued.

The boat was reportedly out of fuel and letting on water that people onboard were trying to bail out. The captain left under unclear circumstances, Alarm Phone said, meaning that there was nobody to steer the vessel.

Sea-Watch International said that a merchant vessel had come to the boat’s aid with fuel and water. But Maltese authorities, Sea-Watch said, had instructed merchant vessels to provide supplies but not to carry out a rescue.

Mr. Weiss of Sea-Watch pointed out that it had taken more than 24 hours after the distress call for a rescue mission to be sent by the Italian Coast Guard, and he noted that the weather conditions, with waves reaching about five feet, and the panic of those aboard the overcrowded craft had made that operation “really, really tricky.” On Monday evening, the 400 people onboard were still waiting to be taken off the boat, according to Alarm Phone.

The actions by the Maltese authorities seemed to be another sign of the disjointed European response.

“Malta is not really taking any rescues,” said Maurice Stierl, a representative of Alarm Phone, adding that the country’s practice of not rescuing migrant boats meant that many that set off from the African coast had to make it closer to Italy before they could hope to be picked up.

“It means that these journeys become really long and really dangerous,” he said.

Maltese naval authorities did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

According to the United Nations, almost 28,000 people have arrived in Italy by sea since the beginning of this year.

In March, the Italian Coast Guard carried out two large-scale missions that rescued more than 1,000 migrants from several boats hundreds of miles off the Calabrian coast. Last week, a Doctors Without Borders vessel saved 440 migrants in a fishing boat off Malta after an 11-hour operation in stormy conditions.

But deaths from boats sinking during such crossings happen with alarming regularity. On Saturday, at least 23 migrants were missing and four others died in the capsizing of two boats off Tunisia, according to officials from that country. In February, a shipwreck off Calabria killed at least 63 people, including many children. Survivors said that boat had departed from Izmir, in western Turkey.

Back to top button