Italian coast guard in mission to save 200 migrants stranded on ‘Banksy’ rescue boat

The deck of the Louise Michel rescue vessel — a former French patrol boat crewed by activists and funded by Banksy — features a painting by the renowned artist. (AP)
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Updated 30 August 2020

Italian coast guard in mission to save 200 migrants stranded on ‘Banksy’ rescue boat

  • Distress calls from stricken vessel adrift in the Mediterranean after picking up refugees off coast of Libya

JEDDAH: The Italian coast guard launched a rescue mission on Saturday to save more than 200 migrants stranded on an overloaded boat drifting in the Mediterranean.

The migrant recovery vessel Louise Michel, funded by the British street artist Banksy, sent out a series of distress calls after picking up 219 refugees since Thursday off the coast of Libya.

A coast guard patrol boat sent from the southern Italian island of Lampedusa took on board 49 of those considered most vulnerable, including 32 women and 13 children.

But despite the help from Italy, the Louise Michel, a former French navy boat with a crew of 10, said it had still not found a safe port for the rest of the mainly African migrants on board. The crew said its situation was worsening, and appealed for help from authorities in Italy, Malta and Germany.

“We are reaching a state of emergency. We need immediate assistance,” said one message. At least one migrant had died, it said.

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A coast guard patrol boat sent from the southern Italian island of Lampedusa took on board 49 of those considered most vulnerable, including 32 women and 13 children.

Another message said the boat was unable to move and “no longer the master of her own destiny” because of her overcrowded deck and a life raft deployed at her side, “but above all due to Europe ignoring our emergency calls for immediate assistance.”

Before Italy’s coast guard intervened, the Italian charity ship Mare Jonio left the Sicilian port of Augusta, much further away than Lampedusa, to offer assistance.

Two UN agencies called for the “urgent disembarkation” of the Louise Michel and two other ships in the Mediterranean carrying hundreds of migrants. 

About 200 are on the Sea Watch 4, a German charity ship, and 27 have been on board the commercial tanker Maersk Etienne since their rescue on Aug. 5.

The International Organisation for Migration and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said they were “deeply concerned about the continued absence of dedicated EU-led search and rescue capacity in the central Mediterranean.”

“The humanitarian imperative of saving lives should not be penalized or stigmatized, especially in the absence of dedicated state-led efforts,” they said.


US bans palm oil imports from Malaysian production giant over labor abuse claims

Updated 34 min 8 sec ago

US bans palm oil imports from Malaysian production giant over labor abuse claims

  • American customs agency probe into Malaysian government-linked firm FGV revealed indicators of forced and child labor, physical and sexual violence
  • The allegations of abuse related especially to migrant laborers who make up the company’s main plantation workforce

KUALA LUMPUR:  The US has banned palm oil imports from Malaysian production giant FGV Holdings after a probe revealed forced labor practices at its facilities.

Human rights groups said the abuse of agricultural workers had been rife across the whole sector for years.

The American ban came into effect after a year-long investigation by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) into FGV, which revealed indicators of forced and child labor, as well as physical and sexual violence, said Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner of the CBP’s Office of Trade.

FGV is a Malaysian government-linked company and one of the world’s largest palm oil producers.

In a statement, the company said it was “disappointed” with the decision by the US which had come at a time when it had been taking “concrete steps over the past several years in demonstrating its commitment to respect human rights and to uphold labor standards.”

The company said the issues raised by the US agency had “been the subject of public discourse since 2015 and FGV has taken several steps to correct the situation.”

It added: “FGV became a participating company of the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and is currently implementing a long-term and comprehensive action plan under its affiliation to the FLA that comprises a number of initiatives to further strengthen various aspects of our labor practices such as our recruitment process, human rights training programs, working and living conditions, as well as grievance mechanisms.”

The allegations of abuse related especially to migrant laborers who make up the company’s main plantation workforce. According to FGV data from August, it had 11,286 Indonesian and 4,683 Indian workers.

Malaysia’s Minister of Human Resources M. Saravanan said on Thursday that he was unclear about the details of the ban and had only found out about plans to impose it several days ago from the US ambassador to Malaysia, Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir. However, he had not expected the ban to be implemented “so soon.”

“As mentioned by the ambassador, these issues are mainly in Sabah and Sarawak (two states on Borneo island), especially in the plantation sector. Action will be taken,” said Saravanan, adding that the ban was “not a good sign” for the country which was heavily reliant on exports.

He said that the Ministry of Human Resources would work closely with the Ministry of Home Affairs which had much of the jurisdiction over foreign labor.

The timing of the ban is particularly unfortunate for Malaysia’s economy, which has been affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. Palm oil exports from Malaysia — which constitute over a third of the world’s exports of the commodity — are one of the country’s key revenue sources.

“FGV would need to step up efforts to increase exports to other countries while addressing the US government’s concerns on the forced labor issues,” Prof. Yeah Kim Leng, economic studies director at Malaysia’s Sunway University, told Arab News.

He said that other palm oil companies would also need to take heed of the causes leading to the ban and address those concerns if they wished to avoid the US’ big stick.

Malaysian rights activists pointed out that they had been highlighting the issue of forced labor in palm oil supply chains for years.

In a statement, Glorene Das, director of Malaysian migrant rights group Tenaganita, said: “We demand all palm oil producers, including FGV Holdings, to take proactive steps to ensure human and labor rights of workers in plantations are respected and upheld at all time.

“Malaysia, as one of the main producers of palm oil in the world, must be an example of fair labor practices rather than be known and cited for exploitative practices.”