Ship boat

The MSF Geo Barents ship will disembark more than 300 people in Taranto

The humanitarian rescue ship Geo Barents, operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), was allowed to disembark the 314 migrants on board the ship in the Italian port of Taranto.

On Monday evening (July 11), the crew aboard the private salvage vessel Geo Barents announced on Twitter that they had been assigned a port of disembarkation.

“After almost five days of useless waiting, our 314 survivors will disembark in the port of Taranto in Italy,” tweeted the medical association Doctors Without Borders, MSF.

Before being rescued, some of the migrants on board had spent at least four days at sea “in distress without water or food”, the crew commented.

Although the Geo Barents was not far from the Sicilian port of Augusta, she was assigned to the Appuli port of Taranto, further east on the Italian mainland. MSF said that while it was “good news” they had been assigned a port, Taranto is “about 27 hours from our current location”, meaning another day at sea for the migrants on board.

Taranto is a major commercial port and the main base of the Italian Navy. It is located at the upper end of a wide bay formed by the heel and toe of the Italian boot.

At the time of this writing, the Geo Barents was east of the Calabrian coast, sailing slowly northeast toward Taranto, according to the Marine Traffic Locator website.

Position of the Geo Barents mid-morning on July 12, 2022 | Source: Screenshot from Marine Traffic Locator website

More than 70 children on board

The crew of Geo Barents claim to have more than 70 children on board the ship. “After nearly drowning, the survivors are physically and emotionally exhausted.” The children, the crew added, “have already gone through tragedies that no child should ever face.”

A photo of one of the children, posted by MSF on Twitter, reads “Geo Barents ship, I love you” alongside a drawing of the ship and many love hearts. Other designs show fish, flying fish, birds and dolphins, alongside bright sunshine and palm trees.

Children's drawings aboard the Geo Barents |  Photo: Twitter feed @MSF_Sea
Children’s drawings aboard the Geo Barents | Photo: Twitter feed @MSF_Sea

Calls on Europe to activate search and rescue

MSF said it made five requests to both Italy and Malta for a place of safety, before being granted the port of Taranto.

Last week the crew of Geo Barents brought 315 people aboard the ship. On July 8, one of the migrants had to be evacuated from the ship due to a medical emergency. “One survivor was suffering from repeated seizures and required specialist care,” MSF tweeted.

Head of Mission Juan Matías Gil said on July 7 that the EU must reactivate a Europe-wide search and rescue mechanism and stop relying solely on the work of private rescue vessels like the Geo Barents and the Ocean Viking.

All of the rescues over the past week are believed to have taken place in Malta’s Search and Rescue (SAR) area. MSF said the inactivity of the Maltese armed forces in their own RAS is “unacceptable”.

Disappeared at sea

The last group of migrants rescued by the Geo Barents – 65 people rescued from an inflatable dinghy – also landed in Taranto on July 2. During this rescue, it is believed that at least 30 people were missing, presumed dead.

“Some of the women on board said they had lost their children in the sea,” MSF said at the time. A 29-year-old pregnant Cameroonian woman died aboard the Geo Barents shortly after being rescued. Three migrants were also medically evacuated from the boat to Malta, including a mother and her granddaughter.

At least five women and eight children are said to have been among the 30 missing from the sinking. Four women lost at least one child and one woman lost her two children at sea.