Rescuers on board a repurposed British lifeboat have saved more than 80 people from a small vessel that started to sink in the Mediterranean Sea.
German NGO Sea-Watch, which operates the Aurora rescue ship, said the under-fire EU border guard Frontex was alerted to the boat in a rescue zone controlled by Malta but sent only a drone.
The 80 people on board were taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa late on Monday after the rescue boat was given permission to dock, according to officials involved in the rescue.
The Aurora, with its crew of six, was one of two rescue ships that helped the 80 people to safety after an alert by a charity on Sunday.
“It is highly cynical that in the face of a life-threatening situation, once again there was no response or help from the relevant European authorities,” said Carla Kneuper, a crew member on the second boat, Nadir. “Only a Frontex drone was sent to watch people in imminent danger of drowning."
Former Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri quit last month after a misconduct probe, which looked at mismanagement and allegations of illegal “pushbacks” by the agency’s vessels.
The Aurora was in service with the UK’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution until 2019 and was later purchased by a British charity, Search And Rescue Relief, which aims to supply humanitarian efforts around the world with equipment and training.
It is one of the fastest boats among the fleet of civilian search and rescue ships that are operating in the Mediterranean region. It has another vessel kitted out with the help of British street artist Banksy, which is also operating in the area.
More than 32,000 people have arrived in Europe by the sea route from the Middle East and North Africa so far this year. Nearly 700 people are feared to have died during the crossings, taking the total to more than 22,000 since 2014.