Ship boat

Relatives lose contact with Lebanese migrant ship near Malta

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BEIRUT – Activists and relatives of Lebanese and Syrian migrants aboard a fishing boat taking on water near the island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea said on Tuesday they lost contact with the vessel overnight.

The 60 Lebanese and Syrian migrants on board had told relatives and groups of volunteers by satellite phone earlier that they had been without food, water and infant formula for several days.

They also reported that a third child died on board due to dehydration, relatives said. The ship departed from the city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon about 10 days ago. The passengers, bound for Italy, include Syrian refugees and Lebanese from the impoverished north of the country.

The migrants communicated with relatives and activist groups via satellite phone and urged the European Coast Guard to rescue them.

Alarm Phone, an international network of activists that helps bring lifesavers to migrants in distress at sea, told The Associated Press that Maltese authorities have responded to some of their calls about the boat in distress, but have not not confirmed a rescue operation. Malta also failed to allow a commercial freighter to rescue stranded migrants, the network said.

“Instead of coordinating a rescue operation, they knowingly left these 60 people in distress at sea for days,” said the network’s Maurice Stierl. “We hope the death reports turn out to be false, but we are extremely concerned about this group.”

One of the migrants’ relatives said his brother told him on their last call on Monday evening that water was leaking into the boat and “they were soaked”. The man spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for his brother’s safety.

“Adults handle the cold and the lack of supplies well, but the kids really struggle,” he said.

Maltese authorities did not immediately respond to requests from The Associated Press to comment on the migrant boat.

A Lebanese lawmaker, Ashraf Rifi, asked Italy to send a rescue team and called on the Lebanese Foreign Ministry and the diplomatic mission in Rome to do the same. The Lebanese government has yet to comment on the matter.

Once a country that hosted refugees, Lebanon has become a launching pad for a dangerous migration by sea to Europe, as it struggles for three years against an economic crisis that has plunged three quarters of its population into poverty. poverty.

As the crisis deepened, more Lebanese refugees, as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees, set sail, with security agencies reporting foiled migration attempts almost every week.

Follow AP’s coverage of migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration.