The office of the Mayor of Ostend Bart Tommelein (liberal) has confirmed that late on Friday night a distress signal was received from a sailing boat that had run into difficulties in the North Sea off the coast of West Flanders. The Maritime Police went to the boat’s assistance and it was escorted to the safety of Ostend harbour.
An initial investigation found that here were far too many crew members (9) on the boat. All of them are Albanian nationals. What they were doing sailing on the North Sea, where they were sailing from and what their destination was is still unclear.
This all begs the question of whether they were in fact transit migrants. The Bruges Judicial Authorities have launched a criminal investigation.
The Governor of West Flanders Carl Decaluwé told VRT News that what happened raises a number of questions. “Where did the ship come from? Where was it going? The investigation will find out. Is this people trafficking. It does certainly seem suspicious to be sailing round of an evening in weather condition that were less than optimal. I presume that this was people smuggling of transit migrant. I don’t think that it is really normal.”