Human Rights at Sea is witnessing a tragic evolution of rescue operations offshore Libya

The German civil society NGOs Jugend Rettet and Sea-Eye have called Mayday on Sunday.

Before reading further, here are some facts from 16/04 evening:

  • The Iuventa, German NGO’s Jugend Rettet ship, has 400 rescued migrants onboard.
    • ¼ might lose their life once weather conditions worsen
  • The ship of the German NGO Sea-Eye has 120 persons onboard.
    • Among those are 10 casualties.
    • Rescues are still ongoing.
  • Boats in distress are currently unassisted, and rescue ships are unable to manoeuvre.
  • Rescue will take hours to arrive…

Since then, there are no news from the NGO-led ships.

What has led to this call is the progressive overcrowding of both rescue vessels by the very large number of rescues carried out for the past hours. The number of rescued persons onboard the ships, and overcrowding it, is now putting the crews in danger, as detailed in the message relayed by the German civil society SAR NGO Jugend Rettet this Sunday (see below).

Normally, a larger ship would come to assist the NGO-led vessels to help with disembarkation and transfer. However, during the weekend, there were no vessels in the vicinity that could assist the crews of Jugend Rettet and Sea-Eye.

Moreover, the rescue vessels are currently surrounded by overcrowded and unseaworthy boats in distress. Due to impossibility of manoeuvring the vessels, further rescues cannot be carried out. Many lives are now in danger as the waves are growing.

With the worsening weather conditions, it is feared that the lives of the persons onboard the rescue vessels will be put at risk. At the moment, the rescued migrants, probably sitting wherever possible are holding on to each other to not slip off the vessel while the ships are pitching with the force of the waves.

Finally, we have been informed by several SAR NGOs, and note, that military vessels usually operating offshore Libya have left the rescue zone a few hours before the tragic development of the rescue operations, and the worsening of the weather conditions.

The ongoing distress situation is unfortunately not a surprise for our charity as we have reported on a similar situation in October 2016 when one of our interns was onboard the vessel of the German civil society NGO Sea-Watch. See:

The rescue of lives in distress is a legal obligation, and while civil society NGOs are currently filling in a gap, they are facing a lack of humanity from entities that should be carrying out these rescues in the Mediterranean, deadliest border on Earth.

Lives of hundreds of migrants, along with those of the civil society rescue crews are now in danger. Human Rights at Sea is calling for immediate assistance to the SAR NGOs that are in distress and courageously still involved in ongoing rescue operations, and would like to raise awareness of the tragic context to the general public.

Too many migrants have lost their lives in front of civil society rescuers that have reached full capacity and could not carry out more rescues. Another tragic day in the Mediterranean.

Message relayed by Jugend Rettet on the 16th of April 2017:


Pos Iuventa: 33°14´N 012°26´E

drifting speed: 1,5 kts

drifting course: 030°

due to expected increasing bad weather IUVENTA is now sending out constantly MAYDAY.

The Iuventa requests a urgent disembarking of approx 400 pers , 7 pregnant women.

The upcoming weather will bring 6 Bf with nnw winds leading to 1 m significant wave height.

We have 100 persons on my lower deck which are in a concrete danger to life in this weather conditions! IUVENTA is not able to navigate at the moment due to the high amount of persons on board!

Tug boat Ringhio is on scene, around them are 400 Persons women and children in rubber boats and small wooden boats. not all of them with life jackets. South of Ringhio are approx. 5 more Rubber boats coming northwards.

Sea Eye reported: approx. 120 ppl on board, 10 dead bodies, ongoing CPR

Phoenix: still with 680 ppl…is that correct?

MRCC send out 2x 300 class and CP 920. 2 merchant Vessels are on scene or will arrive within the next hours. They will take care of the northwards coming RB ore are already busy with rescue. Siem Pilot is busy in the east.

Photo credit: Judith Büthe

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