When an open boat bearing illegal immigrants to Europe from Libya lost power, Boudafel, a Maltese tug towing a tuna-breeding plant to Spain threw those on board a line and proceeded to give them a tow.
The boat then foundered and sank, and the Maltese tug, obeying orders from owners ashore, refused to stop to provide further assistance.
Survivors were left to cling to the buoys holding up the tuna farm’s system of nets. In the end, 27 young men were rescued by the Italian Navy.
For three days and three nights, these African migrants clung desperately to life. Their means of survival is a tuna net, being towed across the Mediterranean by a Maltese tug that refused to take them on board after their frail boat sank.
Malta and Libya, where they had embarked on their perilous journey, washed their hands of them. Eventually, they were rescued by the Italian navy.
The astonishing picture shows them hanging on to the buoys that support the narrow runway that runs around the top of the net. They had had practically nothing to eat or drink.
Last night, on the island of Lampedusa, the 27 young men – from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sudan and other countries – told of their ordeal. As their flimsy boat from Libya floundered adrift for six days, two fishing boats failed to rescue them. On Wednesday, the Maltese boat, the Budafel allowed them to mount the walkway but refused to have them on board.
Last Monday, another open boat containing 53 illegal immigrant African men, women, and children also lost its engine, and was sighted in distress from the air 90 miles south of Malta. Contact with the vessel was lost, and at first the 27 survivors rescued clinging to the tuna nets were believed to have come from this vessel.
In the end, it was established to have been a second boat, and bodies of its passengers were found Friday.
A French navy ship found around 20 bodies floating off the south coast of the Mediterranean island of Malta on Friday, a maritime official said.
The frigate Motte-Picquet was on a routine surveillance mission when it spotted the bodies.
“We are in the process of picking up some dead bodies,” said Emmanuel Dinh, spokesman for France’s Mediterranean maritime authority.
He said he could not give a precise number but said: “There will certainly be around 20.”
Dinh said there was no sign of a boat and the navy could not yet identify where the bodies came from.
“They are in a state of decomposition so they have been in the sea for several days,” he added.
Last week 27 shipwrecked Africans spent three days clinging to tuna nets in the Mediterranean while Malta and Libya argued over who should rescue them. They were eventually picked up by the Italian navy.
Malta refused to allow a Spanish tugboat to land another 26 would-be migrants. Spain decided to take them in.
The migrants’ plight sparked calls from European Union officials for EU countries to adopt common rules to clarify who is responsible for saving them at sea.
Hat tip to JosÃ© Guardia.