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Slow response led to 30 migrant deaths off Libya



MILAN – A network of activists supporting rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea accuses Italy of failing to offer timely assistance to a smugglers’ boat in distress, leading to a deadly sinking that left at least 30 migrants missing and presumed dead in Libya’s search-and-rescue area.

Seventeen survivors were rescued on Sunday in an operation about 100 miles off the coast of Libya, partially coordinated by the Italian coast guard. The incident comes two weeks after another shipwreck off the coast of southern Italy left at least 79 people dead.

The wrecks drew attention to Italian and European protocols for responding to suspected smuggling boats; deadly crossings of the central Mediterranean Sea have doubled in the past year.

The migrants in the most recent incident died when their wooden boat capsized as a merchant vessel, the Froland, approached the stricken boat which was carrying nearly 50 people.

Alarm Phone, which notifies authorities of migrants in need of rescue, said it informed Italian, Libyan and Maltese authorities of the location of the boat and stressed that it was in danger due to high waves. He claimed the migrants died due to “deadly non-assistance by the Italian authorities”, noting that the same boat was spotted nine hours after its initial report by another group which operates surveillance flights.

“This delay, one of many systematic delays documented by Alarm Phone over the years, has proven to be fatal,” the organization said on Sunday. “They would be alive if Europe hadn’t decided to let them drown.”

Italy has denied failing to respond to migrant boats in distress, and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will take questions in Parliament this week on Italy’s response to the sinking two weeks ago off Calabria . Italian authorities brought more than 1,000 rescued migrants to Italian shores over the weekend.

Regarding Sunday’s sinking, the Italian coast guard said it had asked three merchant vessels to respond to the emergency after Libyan authorities informed them they were unable to do so. Another boat was already in the area and in direct contact with Alarm Phone.

The Froland, which arrived first, rescued 17 survivors. He was bringing two to Malta for urgent medical treatment and would continue to Italy with the other 15.

Commercial vessels are continuing to search for missing migrants, assisted by aerial surveillance flights operated by European border control, Frontex, the Italian coast guard said.

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