'Open Arms' rescues 169 people adrift on New Year's Eve

Among the castaways there are forty minors, six of whom are under three years old

2021 begins as 2020 ended in the Mediterranean. The Open Arms boat rescued a wooden boat with 169 people on board a few minutes after midnight yesterday. As the head of the mission, Esther Camps, explained to the ARA, all the castaways are in good health and only have to be careful with a woman who is in advanced pregnancy. The rescue ship, the only one of the humanitarian fleet currently operating in the area, is about 60 miles south of Lampedusa, awaiting further alerts from other vessels in distress and waiting for the Maltese or Italian government to authorise a safe port to disembark the people, including 40 children, six of whom are under three years old.

"The warning came from the plane of a French NGO of pilots, who saw a wooden boat adrift. It was one o'clock in the afternoon and we alerted all the responsible authorities. Since no one responded, we made a plan to rescue it", Esther Camps, head of the mission, told the ARA. The Open Arms was 30 miles away from the site, as per their protocol, and they sent the speedboats first. When they located the boat - a fishing boat that had been left adrift -, the rescue workers distributed the vests and masks of the anti-covid protocol among the people and waited for the tug to arrive. "They waited for an hour and a half, calming everyone down, until the Open arrived" Camps explains. Night-time rescues are always more complicated, but the experience of the NGO from Badalona, which has already saved more than 60,000 lives in the last five years, allows them to do so with maximum safety. Just before midnight everyone was safe on board the ship and the volunteers still had time to celebrate New Year's Eve.

Most of them are Eritreans

The wars and disasters of the planet do not stop during Christmas time. Most of the people on the boat come from Eritrea - according to the crew's first impressions they must have been in Libya for a short time -, a country under a hermetic dictatorship where military service is compulsory for both men and women, and lasts indefinitely. There are also 18 people from Ethiopia, who are currently in conflict in the northern region of Tigray, three Algerians, nine Egyptians, two Sudanese, one Libyan, three Bangladeshi and seven Moroccans who have put their lives at risk in the central Mediterranean and not on the Canary Islands route. They all left the Libyan town of Sabratha on Wednesday morning and have been lucky enough to be able to explain it.

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