A Nigerian woman believes her pregnant sister would still be alive if passing ships had stopped to help a group of immigrants fleeing Libya who were at sea for over a week without fuel and supplies.
“Many, many ships and aircraft passed but they didn’t stop to give us help – if they did, Tina would not have died,” a tearful Faith Osarnekhol, 25, told The Sunday Times.
Together with her husband Lockie and another seven migrants, Ms Osarnekhol laid her sister, who was two months pregnant, to rest during a quiet funeral service at Addolorata Cemetery early yesterday morning.
They formed part of a group of immigrants who were rescued by the Armed Forces of Malta last Tuesday after their vessel was spotted by an Italian fishing vessel southwest of Malta.
Their medical condition was the worst of the more than 1,100 who have landed in Malta since the start of the Libya crisis, with most barely able to stand and in desperate need of first aid.
Tina Aeyie, 27, died in her sister’s arms due to severe dehydration caused by drinking sea water a few hours before the group was rescued by the Maltese army.
“She died – she would have made it if someone had stopped to help us. Only the Maltese stopped to rescue us,” Mrs Osarnekhol said.
With her husband and sister, Mrs Osarnekhol decided to flee Libya – which had been their home for over a year – because they feared for their lives.
“Everyone was escaping because they were afraid – because of the bombs. We ran for our lives,” she said.
They left their belongings behind and, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, escaped at night and made their way to Tripoli to board a boat which left on April 3.
But on the way to Lampedusa, the engine broke down and the boat started to drift.
“We couldn’t go forwards or backwards... we called out for help but no one came to rescue us,” said Mrs Osarnekhol.
With food and water running out quickly, some of the immigrants turned to sea water out of desperation – including Tina Aeyie.
“She drank sea water and fell sick – there was nothing we could do but stay with her,” Mrs Osarnekhol said.
They were rescued after 10 days at sea but it was too late.
“She was always joking – always making people happy. If I was in a bad mood, she would go out of her way to make me laugh,” she said.
A hairdresser in her homeland, Mrs Osarnekhol and her sister, both Catholics, had left Nigeria with their husbands to find a better life in Libya. They left more than a year ago to send money home to their parents and six siblings – something Mrs Osarnekhol will continue to do.
However, she swore never to return to Libya and will now await her fate at the detention centre.
Their boat was spotted 45 nautical miles southwest of Malta and 47 nautical miles east of Lampedusa. The migrants are reported to have been burning their clothes in desperation as they sought to attract the fishermen’s attention.
The AFM was alerted by the Italian rescue coordination centre but despite Malta’s request for help, the Italian authorities told Malta they would not send any of their assets since the boat was located “a little closer” to Malta. The group included 18 women and four children, including three babies.