ABOARD THE OPEN ARMS,. Rescuers operating off the coast of Libya discovered the bodies of a small child and woman in a deflated dinghy yesterday, while a second woman was found alive but suffering from hypothermia and shock, an AFP photographer reported.
The dinghy — which was discovered by rescuers from the Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms — was completely deflated, with the victims lying on the few wooden planks that remained afloat.
Spanish rescue workers went to the scene — around 80 nautical miles northeast of Tripoli — after hearing a radio exchange on Monday night between a cargo ship and a Libyan coastguard vessel about a boat in distress, the charity said.
The cargo ship remained in the area for several hours, until the coastguard assured it was on its way.
The Spanish NGO accuses the Libyans of helping other migrants but leaving the two women and the child for dead.
When questioned by AFP, the Libyan coastguard denied the accusations, saying that the two rescue operations they carried out on Monday concerned other boats.
The Libyan coastguard announced that they had rescued 158 people from a dinghy on Monday 16 nautical miles from Khoms, relatively far from where the deflated raft was discovered.
Migrants abord a second dinghy were rescued by the Libyan coastguard vessel Ras Jedir overnight Monday, 76 nautical miles north of Garabulli — east of the capital Tripoli — very close to the area where the deflated raft was found.
There were 165 migrants aboard the second dinghy — including 34 women and 12 children — who had been drifting for over 60 hours without food or water, the coastguard said, adding that they had recovered the lifeless body of a one-month-old girl.
In a statement, the coastguard emphasised their lack of resources, particularly for surveillance and night rescue in the Mediterranean.
The Libyan coastguard does not usually bring back the bodies of migrants found dead at sea, saying they focus their efforts on rescuing the living.
They also face the refusal of the authorities in Tripoli to take charge of the bodies upon arrival at port, citing a lack of space in morgues or cemeteries.
‘Ports closed, hearts open’
Spanish rescuers said the boy found dead yesterday was around five years old.
The survivor identified herself only as Josepha, saying she was 40 years old and from the West African state of Cameroon.
The rescue ship’s medical team said she was in a stable condition but was traumatised, adding that she needed medical and psychological treatment “as soon as possible”.
The team also called for the quick transfer of the two bodies, as the Open Arms ship does not have refrigeration facilities to store bodies.
Yesterday evening, the Open Arms ship was heading north carrying the survivor and the two victims, hoping to find a port to disembark at.
The Open Arms and the Spanish charity’s other ship, the Astral, returned to Libyan waters yesterday after several weeks of absence from the area.
Italy and Malta are cracking down on NGO boats operating in the Mediterranean, sharply reining in their rescue efforts.
Italy’s hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has said the country’s ports will be closed to charity rescue boats which he accuses of indirectly aiding human traffickers.
Malta has also banned the ships from stopping over at its ports.
Upon the boats’ return to Libyan waters Salvini — who is head of the far-right League party — tweeted: “Two Spanish NGO ships have returned to the Mediterranean waiting to be loaded with human beings. They should save themselves time and money, they will only see Italian ports on postcards.”
Italy’s new populist government has promised to stop migrant arrivals to Italy, pressuring Libya to take charge of rescues missions in the Mediterranean.
Photos of the deflated dinghy, and in particular of the dead child, provoked strong reactions in Italy.
Erasmo Palazzotto, an Italian leftwing MP present on the Open Arms, wrote on Twitter: “Matteo Salvini, this is what the Libyan Coastguard does when it makes a humanitarian rescue.”
Salvini responded to criticism denouncing “lies and insults (that) confirm that we are doing the right thing: reducing departures and landings means reducing deaths, and reducing the profits of those who speculate on illegal immigration,” he wrote on Twitter, adding: “I stand firm, ports closed and hearts open.”
In recent years, hundreds of thousands fleeing war and poverty have made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe.
Thousands have died attempting the trip.