March 13 (UPI) — More than two dozen people were missing in the central Mediterranean Sea after a boat traveling from Libya over the weekend capsized in bad weather, several organizations said while lambasting the Italian government for not intervening.
The boat with 47 migrants on board was traveling from Libya when it capsized north of the African nation on Sunday, with only 17 people being rescued by a merchant vessel, according to Alarm Phone, an organization that seeks to help refugees in distress in the Mediterranean Sea, and nonprofit organization Mediterranean Saving Humans.
Alarm Phone said it was alerted to the boat in distress early Saturday and repeatedly notified Italian and other government authorities of the situation, but none initiated rescue operations.
The boat was adrift in dangerous weather conditions and Alarm Phone said it could hear people over the phone in need of assistance.
“They were exhausted and desperate, screaming and crying for help,” it said in a statement, stating only merchant vessels reached the scene and only monitored the situation.
Alarm Phone said its last communication with those on board the vessel was at about 7:20 a.m. Sunday. Shortly after, the boat capsized.
“We are in shock,” Alarm Phone tweeted. “The Italian authorities knowingly delayed rescue and let them die.”
“After the shipwreck with many deaths, we worry that survivors — who watched their friends dying before being rescued by a merchant vessel — will be forced to #Libya or #Tunisia where inhuman conditions await. We demand that all survivors are brought to a safe place in Europe!”
Sea-Watch International, a German non-government organization, documented the situation from the air. It said it had called the Libyan rescue center, which replied that it would not send a rescue ship. Alarm Phone had said the Libyan authorities had initially confirmed it would send a vessel but later informed the organization one was not a available and that Italy was coordinating a response.
“When we reach the Italian MRCC again with the question of who will take over coordination and responsibility for the people, the office in charge hangs up,” Sea-Watch International said in a statement, referring to the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center.
UPI has contacted the IMRCC for comment.
The boat capsized amid growing criticism directed at the immigration policy of Italy’s far-right government of Prime Minister Giorgia Melon after dozens died late last month off the Italian coast.
Alarm Phone said that it is asking the Italian government why it did not send adequate rescue assets to the distressed boat on Sunday.
“This delay, one of the many systematic delays Alarm Phone has document over the years, proved to be deadly,” it said in a statement, accusing the Italian government in failing to intervene in order to prevent the migrants from reaching its shores.