After some calm days of taking care of the ship and being finally able to rest, we have received a hint from MRCC informing us of a wooden boat that would have left Tripoli some hours ago. At this time, it is already around 1 pm and the people on this boat must have been on their way for long exhausting hours.
During this event, the origin of the information has awakened my curiosity. For information, SAR operations are mostly coordinated by MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre) Rome. Usually, we receive a call before dawn informing us about the position and direction of migrant boats that have left the Libyan coast during the night. The Centre is then in charge of coordinating the rescue operation according to the ships that are in the vicinity, their capacities, etc.
The call for help has been sent to us from an unusual location on Tuesday. It came from Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean priest currently living in Switzerland. He has an emergency hotline for migrants who are in distress when crossing the Mediterranean. The migrants that have left the Libyan shore on this day have contacted him personally through a satellite phone and called for help. Fr. Zerai has then transmitted the GPS coordinates and other information to several SAR organizations. It has been told to me that this has already happened several times, and that the person in question is well known from SAR organizations. In fact, Mussie Zerai has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2015.
Our crew has then made some basic calculations based on the location of the city of departure, the strength and direction of the wind, as well as the possible speed the migrant boat has. The current position of the boat in distress has then been approximately determined.
MRCC was then able to coordinate the rescue operation with other ships that were closer to the given location, and has also sent off a military helicopter to observe the area from above in order to find the migrant boat in question. The boat in distress has finally been spotted at around 5pm with over 300 people onboard. This information has been followed by an immense feeling of relief. We now know that these people will not be drifting into the forgotten.
This particular event has shown the existing possible cooperation in SAR operations between civil society, NGOs, as well as the military. Together they have managed to find people in distress, who otherwise would have simply drowned unfound and forgotten by the rest of the world. Which also leads to asking what would be possible in SAR if MRCC would know the position of the military assets in the rescue areas. With the help and support of such precise, rapid and effective technology, maybe less migrants would die unspotted at sea.
Intern at Human Rights at Sea,
On secondment to Sea-Watch
Photo credits: Joshua Krüger, Sea-Watch