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Migrant boat ‘left in distress off Libyan coast'

16 Sep 2018 euronews

Calls for assistance for a rubber boat in distress carrying around 100 migrants went unanswered for hours on Sunday, according to search and rescue groups.

Pilotes Volontaires, which provides aerial observation support to NGOs carrying out rescue operations at sea, spotted the vessel around noon CEST on Sunday.

It said it had informed the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome, but was told the case was being referred to Libyan authorities who weren’t responding.

"Till now we do not have any information on when these people will be rescued," it wrote on Twitter shortly after 4pm CEST.

German NGO Sea Watch, which is working with Pilotes Volontaires, urged the Italian Coast Guard to rescue the boat, which was last reported north of the Libyan city of Zuwarah.

“The boat was spotted and until now no one has taken responsibility. This is a clear case of non-assistance,” Sea Watch spokesperson Ruben Neugebauer told Euronews.

“The Italians were the closest MRCC [Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre] we could reach… We’ve tried everything to reach the responsible authorities. They know about it and they know they have to act”, he said.

Neugebauer said the lack of action by the Italian Coast Guard was “irresponsible”.

“There’s a boat in distress, there are people in distress and there cannot be time passing by. Even if a rescue is organised now it will take some time to get there… It’s irresponsible of the MRCC, which is obviously under pressure from the Interior Ministry."

The Italian and Libyan coast guards did not immediately respond to Euronews requests for comment.

Earlier this year, Libya officially took ownership of a large area of the sea migrant route into Europe for search and rescue operations.

NGOs said the move, backed by the European Union, would block asylum seekers from reaching safety.

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