ON BOARD OF THE OPEN ARMS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN – The remains of the raft were a point in the sea, but when our rescue boat approached, we saw a woman making an effort to say hello, which showed that there was life.
However, once the boats launched from the Open Arms boat approached, it became clear that she was the only survivor. The woman, who called herself Josepha, was taken on board in a state of deep shock and treated by doctors.
We found her on the morning of July 17 and told the doctors that she had spent the previous night clinging to the remains, singing and praying. Two doctors told me their story.
Upside down, between loose boards and flat tires, lay the corpse of a woman in dark trousers and a striped shirt. She had been dead for some time, the doctors said. There was also a four-year-old boy who had died hours earlier, according to the doctors.
The crew took the bodies to the Open Arms, covered them and put them on ice on the deck. Emotions went from a sense of accomplishment to rescue to sadness.
I spent 29 days taking pictures on the flagship rescue boat of the Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms while patrolling the designated Search and Rescue area off the coast of Libya.
At that time, we did not see other rescue boats and the crew said there was no one active in the area. Reuters could not verify this fact.
The rescue was just a drama amid the conflict generated by the trip of almost 1.8 million people across the Mediterranean from the Middle East and Africa since 2014, which has seen hundreds of thousands of people get on small boats in Libya, according to United Nations figures.
Thousands of people have drowned and ships like the Open Arms, a 36-meter retired tug built in 1973, have taken on the task of offering rescue.
A NEEDLE IN A PAJAR
After getting on board the Open Arms and during his medical exams, Josepha told the doctors that she was from Cameroon. The specialists indicated that she did not give them her last name or any detail of his history nor did he explain who the other passengers were on the raft. It was also unclear how the boat was damaged.
Locating migrants who are adrift is like finding a needle in a haystack, but on the night of July 16, the crew says they were lucky while touring the radio frequencies.
Shortly before 9.00 pm, we heard a commercial ship, the Triades, tell the Libyan coast guard that he had seen a raft adrift. The captain rotated the Open Arms to the informed location and discovered the remains of the raft at 7.30 the next day.
After the rescue, three and a half days passed before we arrived at the only port that would accept it, Palma de Mallorca, in Spain. When we touched land Josepha still could not walk without help.
The drama did not end there.
The founder of Open Arms, Catalan activist Oscar Camps, filed a lawsuit in Palma accusing the captain of the Triades and the Libyan coast guard of involuntary manslaughter and of not helping the migrants. Under the international maritime law, ships must attempt to rescue any person in danger at sea.
In Spain, an accuser files a complaint with the local court, in this case in Palma, and the presiding judge decides whether to take the case further. The Palma court said that the claim is still being processed and that, therefore, an investigating judge had not been assigned.
The Triades, a Panamanian flag merchant ship owned by the Greek shipping company Newport SA, docked in the Turkish port of Dortyol on Monday.
Newport refused to comment. Reuters could not contact the captain of the Triades through the company, who refused to give his contact details, or through the port authorities of Dortyol.
Reuters spoke with Ibrahim Ozen, general manager of Global Container Line, a company that provides information on the activities of the port, for contact with the ship.
Ozen said Thursday he would try to contact someone in Triades, but he did not answer any more questions.
A spokeswoman for the Open Arms reported that Josepha would not answer any more questions due to the lawsuit.
Camps said radio traffic between the Triades and the Libyan coast guard showed that the ship’s crew had seen the raft but did not provide help. I heard the radio exchange between the Triades and the Coast Guard, which corroborates Camps’ version.
Camps also accused Italy and Malta of refusing to allow the Open Arms to land after the rescue, forcing a much longer trip to Spain.
Italy said things were not like that and accused the charity of lying about the circumstances of the rescue.
Camps, citing Josepha’s account, said the Libyan coast guard had abandoned the three migrants in the midst of the ravaged remains of the raft because they refused to board the patrol.
The Libyan coast guard denied having left the raft at sea. “It is not in our religion, our ethics or our conduct to abandon human lives at sea,” the maritime authority said in a statement in which it also questioned Camps’ version of the events.
Source: Swiss Info