Boat Disappears in the Central Mediterranean
A distressing incident unfolded in the central Mediterranean as a boat carrying approximately 500 asylum seekers, including vulnerable individuals such as a newborn baby and pregnant woman, disappeared. Alarm Phone, an organization that responds to distress calls from refugee vessels, reported the loss of contact with the boat on Wednesday morning.
At the time, the vessel was adrift without a functioning engine, battling rough seas approximately 320km (200 miles) north of Libya’s port of Benghazi and over 400km (250 miles) away from Malta and Italy’s southern island of Sicily.
Search Efforts and Hope for Survival
Italian NGO Emergency and the charity vessel Ocean Viking, both dedicated to humanitarian missions, conducted a 24-hour search for the missing boat but found no trace of it or any shipwreck. Nevertheless, the search continues, as suggested by a spokesperson from Emergency, who indicated that the individuals onboard may have been rescued by another boat or possibly managed to repair their engine and navigate towards Sicily.
Other Rescue Operations
In unrelated incidents, the Italian coastguard carried out two separate rescue operations, saving a total of 423 and 671 individuals, respectively, in Italian search and rescue waters. Alarm Phone clarified that these operations were not connected to the disappearance of the aforementioned boat. Additionally, the German charity SOS Humanity reported that 27 people were rescued at sea by an oil tanker but were unlawfully returned to Libya, a country where refugees face severe mistreatment and documented abuse.
Under international humanitarian law, asylum seekers should not be forcibly returned to regions where they are at risk of suffering harsh treatment. Europe’s approach to migration has become increasingly stringent, with countries such as Italy experiencing a surge in sea arrivals. The number of refugees arriving by boat has significantly risen, surpassing 47,000 individuals so far this year compared to approximately 18,000 in the same period of the previous year.