The actions of a teenager from Togo have been lauded after video footage was published of him supporting a baby he saved from a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea last week in which at least 30 people died.
The 17-year-old, whose identity has not been disclosed, swam to save the child, whom he was holding above water when a rescue team arrived, in footage published by the French media group Brut.
“I am a good swimmer and I went to help people,” the teenager said, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), whose Geo Barents rescue ship arrived at the site of the shipwreck.
Michael Bunel, a French photojournalist who was onboard the rescue ship, told Brut that when they arrived they could hear the teenager shouting: “There’s a baby. There’s a baby.”
The crew threw the teenager a flotation device to pull him and another survivor in, and gave urgent treatment to the four-month-old baby, who at first was not breathing. The baby and her mother were evacuated to Malta, according to MSF.
The rubber dinghy was detected only after nine days at sea, said Safa Mselhi, a spokesperson for the UN’s International Organization for Migration. A pregnant woman who could not be resuscitated died onboard the rescue ship.
The Geo Barents rescued 71 people from the shipwreck, some of them with fuel burns, caused when skin comes into contact with petrol that has mixed with seawater.
The survivors on the Geo Barents had to wait almost five days to get to land, only being allowed to disembark at the Italian town of Taranto on Saturday. The ship had been carrying the body of the pregnant woman during this time.
Juan Matías Gil, MSF’s search and rescue representative, said: “This traumatic event is a deadly consequence of the growing inaction and disengagement of European and other border states, including Italy and Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea.
“Tragedies at sea continue to cost thousands of lives, and these people are being lost on Europe’s doorstep, with absolute silence and indifference from EU states.”
Sea rescue charities have repeatedly accused the European Union of failing to save refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean by requesting that Libya’s so-called coastguard intercept any boats attempting the crossing, despite allegations of abuse in Libya’s militia-run detention centres.
According to MSF, at least 8,500 people died or went missing, and 95,000 were returned to Libya, in attempting crossings of the Mediterranean between 2017 and 2021.
On Wednesday morning 306 people disembarked in Sicily from SOS Méditerranée’s rescue ship Ocean Viking. Some of the survivors had been onboard for 12 days. The ship carried out eight rescues in less than two weeks – the most recent, on Monday, of 15 people who had been adrift for two days.