The Sea-Watch 3 reaches the Libyan SRR (search-and-rescue region) on January, 16th. On the 18th of January, the reconnaissance aircraft Moonbird overhears radio communication about a distress case with a half-sunken boat and people in the water. MRCC Italy refused to give Sea-Watch information about the case, claiming MRCC Tripoli to be responsible, which in turn is not able or willing to communicate. After hearing about the case, SW3 needs ten hours from western SAR to reach the location in the East, without evident action of the MRCCs and without finding the distress case. Over 117 people disappear and most likely die that day. On January 19th then the SW3 rescues 47 people, including 13 unaccompanied minors. The boat in distress was spotted by SW’s aerial asset Moonbird. For the following eleven days the SW3 waits to get assigned a Port of Safety to complete the rescue operation as part of it is the disembarkation of the people.

The only three survivors of the distress case from the 18th tell members of the International Organization of Migration (IOM) that they had started with 120 people on the boat and have been in distress at sea without assistance for many hours before the first intervention of the Italian Navy. In the early afternoon, the Italian aircraft P-72 launches two life rafts in proximity to the distressed boat, there is no evidence of further assistance. When the Italian navy helicopter reaches the situation in the evening, they manage to evacuate two survivors from a life raft and one from open waters. Libyan MRCC is officially in charge and coordinating with Italian MRCC, also requests the Liberian flagged merchant vessel Cordula Jacob to inquire about the case. After two hours of a futile search for more survivors, the CJ stops the investigation and continues its original journey. When SW3 arrives late in the night, they identify the two empty life rafts but not finding any survivors.
The 117 missing people are presumed to be dead as a result of insufficient collaboration, coordination, and rescue capacities of the responsible units.
On the morning of the 19th Moonbird spots a rubber boat and informs Sea-Watch3 and all relevant authorities. When SW3 reaches the boat, the launches RHIBS reaffirm it being a distress case as the engine of the self-made 6-8 meter long boat is inoperable. Italian MRCC affirms awareness of the case and responsibilities lying with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, while Sea-Watch is starting to disembark the people of the boat. After the rescue, the crew informs all relevant authorities but was not able to reach the so-called Libyan Coast Guard.
After shortly being adrift in the Central Med the SW3 sails north awaiting assignment for a port of safety. On January 25th, given that the Sea-Watch 3 was facing a Mediterranean Cyclone with waves of seven meters, rain and icy wind, Italy’s Coast Guard tells the ship it could moor 2 km (1.2 miles) off Sicily’s shore, near the city of Syracuse, but Italy continued to refuse to let it enter any port. Later on that day, the court of minors in the Sicilian port of Catania sent a letter to the government asking them to immediately disembark the minors, saying leaving them on board violated Italian law. On January 26th, Italian authorities say that the people on the Sea-Watch 3 were rescued in an area that is within Libya’s search-and-rescue jurisdiction, implying that Libya should be in charge of the migrants. The cities of Syracuse, Palermo, and Naples, among others, have said they would welcome the ship, but the central government controls who is allowed to dock in Italian ports. With little space aboard, many of the migrants are forced to stay on deck, sheltering under a tarpaulin but with little heat.
After 12 days stranded at sea, the 47 people can finally find a port of safety in Catania. After their disembarkation, Sea-Watch learns about the ship not being allowed to simply leave the harbor but having to go through a series of evaluations on suitabilities of hosting people for that amount of time before finally being allowed to leave 21 days later.

SAR case number: SW-2019/002

SAR organisation: Sea Watch

SAR asset: Sea Watch 3

Incident types: Order to stand by by EU authority; EU MRCC denying responsibility for SAR; EU MRCC denying disembarkation

Date of SAR (UTC): 19/01/2019

Time of first information received (UTC): 19/01/2019 10:24 am

Starting time of first sighting / engagement with target boat in distress (UTC): 19/01/2019 12:15 pm


Number of migrant boats: 2

Type of migrant boat(s): rubber boats

Number of people on board per boat: 120 (three survivors) 47 (rescued)

Other vessels in the vicinity (e.g. unidentified / cargo / aircrafts): Cordula Jacob (tanker)


Total number of survivors: 47