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Geo Barents: almost 400 people rescued in less than two days
A firsthand account from on board of the MSF search and rescue vessel
*October 28 update: On October 27, all the 367 onboard the Geo Barents disemabarked safely in Palermo.
Central Mediterranean, 25 October 2021- The team on board the Geo Barents have conducted five rescues in less than two days in extremely challenging conditions. Many among the survivors are unaccompanied minors and small children.
No sun, rain or wind protection
"Imagine being on an overcrowded boat without a life vest. Imagine being surrounded by waves up to three meters high while your clothes are soaked, and you are suffering from fuel inhalation.""
"Imagine running out of food and water as time wears on, having no protection from the sun, wind, and rain."
"Imagine calling for help and no one answers. This is the reality we are witnessing at sea"
Five challenging rescues
Amid very harsh weather conditions, MSF conducted five challenging rescues.
Many of the survivors were hypothermique, after prolonged exposure to the elements or falling in the water. Survivors also faced seasickness and fuel inhalation.
Both children and adults have suffered from dehydration and loss of appetite due to seasickness. Among the 367 people on board, 172 are minors, small children and adolescents and 134 of them are unaccompanied.
Critical rescue and fuel intoxication
On the morning of 22 October, MSF teams conducted their first rescue since reaching the search and rescue zone. 36 survivors were brought on board the Geo Barents from a wooden boat.
During the rescue operation, the Geo Barents received a new alert. This time, the alert was for a rubber boat in distress, located several hours away.
"The boat was in a very fragile condition, and the people on board had inhaled fuel fumes and had become agitated due to the difficult situation."
"Many of the factors that makes a rescue challenging were all there at the same time” explains Leo Southall,
After roughly two intense hours, the team was able to get all 65 survivors on board.
One of them had to be brought on board on a stretcher, but thankfully recovered quickly.
Ignored by authorities
That same night the Geo Barents received a third alert. Another overcrowded wooden boat was in distress.
Although authorities were aware of the situation, no one responded or intervened. It took the Geo Barents nine hours to reach the location of the boat and all this time neither authorities nor other nearby vessels provided assistance.
"Leaving people to drift at sea is unacceptable."
Once again, we are witnessing how European migration control policies are endangering lives of thousands of people, by not having any proactive search and rescue capacity at sea and failing to provide a response to all distress calls.
It’s unacceptable that NGOs are left to fill the deadly gap,” she continues.
People must not be returned to Libya
By 23 October, Geo Barents had 201 people on board, when it received a new alert of another rubber boat in distress, six hours away from the vessels position.
By the time Geo Barents reached the area, the Libyan Coast Guard was already there approaching the rubber boat quickly, maneuvering dangerously around it.
Team feared another interception
The team on board of the Geo Barents feared then another interception, but this time MSF was able to continue the rescue and bring the 95 survivors on board.
Had the Libyan Coast Guard intercepted the vessel the survivors would in all likelihood have been forcibly returned to the cycle of violence and exploitation in Libya.
Requesting a port of safety
On 24 October, the MSF search and rescue team performed another critical rescue of a rubber boat in distress which was filling up with water. Seventy-one people were on board, extremely scared for their lives.
More search and rescue capacity needed
“The last couple of days emphasizes the humanitarian catastrophe that is taking place at the southern border of Europe. With only humanitarian vessels monitoring the world’s deadliest migration route, the need for more search and rescue capacity is desperately needed.
Extremely rough forecast are looming and we are very concerned having almost 400 survivors on board who have been through enough at it is. Their suffering must end”, concludes Caroline.
Marte Woxen Burum
MSF Field Communications Manager on board of the Geo Barents