Italian coast guard and navy shine in rescues


Passengers awaiting rescue on upper deck of the burning Norman Atlantic

While the Italian government still has little to show for its plans to help the country out of its economic doldrums, the Italian Coast Guard, its Navy and Air Force get kudos for saving travelers aboard a stricken ferry and rescuing hundreds of illegal migrants arriving from war-torn and/or poverty-struck countries and abandoned in the open seas by unscrupulous human traffickers seeking to avoid arrest.

In the last few days, some 2000 people have been rescued from possible death in several dangerous ocean incidents. On December 28th, a fire that is still smoldering broke out on the Norman Atlantic ferry en route from Greece to Italy, and Italian rescuers played a key role in a high seas situation in helping to save some 427 travelers from the ship and take them to Italian ports. The often-daring rescues by helicopter and nearby ships were coordinated by the Bari Coast Guard.

So far some 13 people (including two Albanian sailors participating in salvage operations) are believed to have died because of the incident although the exact number of people aboard still seems to be uncertain. According to the ship’s manifest, the total number of passengers and crew was 475, which would mean some more than 30 people are as yet unaccounted for. Although there is also speculation that there may have also been more people aboard (and this more deaths), including perhaps a number of stowaways, possibly illegal immigrants, maybe hiding in the garage, which is where the fire reportedly broke out.

The ship, owned by the Italian company Visemar di Navigazione, and chartered in December by the Greek ANEK Lines is now docked at an auxiliary port near Brindisi in the Adriatic sea while investigations are under way. Although muck-raking Greek and Italian newspapers have been focusing on the defects of the ship, – for example, the poor functioning of the lifeboats, – the rescue operations were undeniably brilliant and deserve high praise.

A few days later, a vessel called the Blue Sky M bearing as many as 970 migrants, including pregnant women and many children, was abandoned at sea by the traffickers who arranged the illegal travel. The ship was guided into the southern Italian port of Gallipoli on New Year’s Eve after Italian Coast Guard officers were lowered onto it by an Italian Air Force helicopter.

ezadeeninPORTAnd then shortly after that, a cargo ship, the Ezadeen, carrying some 450 migrants, was also abandoned to drift in the Mediterranean by the criminals seeking to avoid arrest. After distress signals were sent from somewhere near the Greek island of Corfu, Italian Coast Guard officers again were lowered onto the ship from an Italian Air Force helicopter and sailed the ship to safety to the Calabria’s Ionian coast.

Last year some 170,000 illegal migrants (a mind-blowing number) landed on Italian shores, often after rescues from perilous situations. Clearly, the rescues followed orders by the Italian government whose Mare Nostrum policy deserves high praise, not least because of the problems it cause for a country with severe economic problems. But it has allowed the Italian Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force (not to mention its Red Cross units) to show just what fine mettle they are made of.

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