ZARZIS: The Tunisian trawler radioed in for help as it passed the migrant boat in distress out at sea. But with the packed craft still adrift two days later, captain Chamseddine Bourassine took direct action, reports AFP.
Fishermen from the North African country are spending more and more time pulling in stranded migrants after a sharp decline in humanitarian and European naval patrols along the stretch of water between war-wracked Libya and Italy.Bourassine, his crew and three other fishing boats ferried the 69 migrants back to shore on May 11, five days after their boat pushed off from Zuwara on the western Libyan coast.
“The area where we fish is a crossing point” between Zuwara and the Italian island of Lampedusa, said Badreddine Mecherek, a Tunisian fisherman from Zarzis near the border with Libya.
Fisherman from Zarzis have saved the lives of hundreds of migrants in recent years, and as the number of boats leaving western Libya for Europe spikes with the return of calmer summer seas, they will probably have to save even more.
“First we warn the authorities, but in the end we end up saving them ourselves,” Mecherek grumbled as he tinkered with his rusting sardine boat.
European countries in the northern Mediterranean are trying to stem the number of migrants landing on their shores, and the Tunisian navy with its limited resources only rescues boats inside the country’s territorial waters.
Since May 31, Tunisia itself has barred 75 migrants from coming ashore after they were saved in international waters by a Tunisian-Egyptian tug boat.Contacted multiple times by AFP, Tunisian authorities have refused to comment.
“Everyone has disengaged” from the issue, said Mecherek, adding it was hampering his work.
Fishermen who run across migrants on their second day out at sea are at least able to have done a day’s work, he added, “but if we find them on the first night, we have to go back”.
“It’s very complicated to finish the job with people on board.”
The complexity of the rescues grows when fishermen find migrants adrift closer to Italy.
When Bourassine and his crew last year tugged a boat towards Lampedusa which was adrift without a motor, they were jailed in Sicily for four weeks for helping the migrants. It took months to recover their boat.