ROME: “We need your help, we need your help, please,” pleads a desperate voice down the phone to the Italian coastguards.
The chaotic call, made by satellite phone in broken English from a boat somewhere in the Mediterranean, is just one of many regularly received by staff at the service’s emergency operational center in southern Rome.
“What is your position?” the duty coastguard asks several times. “What are you coordinates?” he says, trying again. “How many of you are there?”
According to Filippo Marini of the service, the center receives an “incredible number” of calls like this.
“Fortunately we have agreements with the satellite phone company which help us to find the geographical coordinates of the call and from that moment on we launch the rescue boats.”
In a spacious room at this huge, modern building, staff work around the clock monitoring screens showing the position of vessels and the latest weather conditions in the Mediterranean.
Distress calls come direct from the migrants themselves and from their relatives anxious to alert the authorities to their plight.
The search and rescue zone covered by the Italian coastguard in theory spreads across half a million square kilometers.
But due to the crisis in Libya, the area has now been extended to around one-to-two million square kilometers.
This year alone, 1,770 men, women and children have either died or are missing at sea, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), while around 40,000 migrants have landed in Italy.