Santa Pola fishermen's tears
Malta takes migrants to end long stand-off at sea
THE 12 migrants rescued from the sea off the coast of Libya by the crew of a Spanish fishing boat from Santa Pola on November 22 are on dry land again.
They had been running out of food and fuel aboard the overcrowded Nuestra Madre Loreto, and one was so unwell that he had to be evacuated by helicopter on Friday and taken to hospital in Malta.
On Sunday the 13 fishermen had decided to head back to Spain against the instructions of their government, which was insisting they must go to Libya under international law as it was the nearest ‘safe port’.
The crew had insisted Libya was too dangerous for them and their passengers, a position supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but nowhere else would let them dock either and they were stranded at sea for 10 days.
Later on Sunday morning the Spanish and Maltese governments reached an agreement and a coastguard vessel from the island met them at sea and took the 11 remaining migrants to the port of Valletta.
The Maltese minister for the interior, Michael Farrugia said that ‘once they have received medical attention they will be relocated in Spain’.
This has not been confirmed by the Spanish government, which indicated it will decide their future on a case by case basis.
The migrants – who say they are from Somalia, Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria and Senegal – were among almost 50 people in three boats trying to flee war-torn Libya.
They jumped into the sea when a patrol boat came and took the others back there.
When a team from the NGO Proactiva came aboard the Loreto to provide medical assistance on November 24, doctor Valeria Sottani said the migrants all had recent injuries and one claimed to have lost the sight in an eye from beatings in a Libyan detention centre.
They assured that migrants in Libya are imprisoned, enslaved and tortured unless their families pay a ransom, and one insisted death was preferable to returning there.
The NGO returned to the Loreto on Friday, after the occupants had endured a ferocious storm, and it was decided one of the passengers required hospitalisation.
After all the migrants had disembarked, the vice-captain of the fishing boat, Vicente Sampere said the crew were very relieved and their passengers even more so.
“There were a lot of hugs, they gave us a thumbs up and put their hands on their hearts in a gesture of thanks, which was enough to make us cry,” he explained.
The Nuestro Madre Loreto, which had already been at sea for a month, has headed to Licata in Sicily to refuel and buy provisions, then will continue fishing until December 21 or 22, when they had originally been due to return home.
Back in Santa Pola, the council and hundreds of residents attended two rallies in support of the crew, and called for them to be presented with official recognition of their humanitarianism, bravery and self-sacrifice.
The Nuestra Madre Loreto at sea