10/08/2017 15:23 BST | Updated 10/08/2017 15:27 BST

Defend Europe Trolled By Oscar Champs Of Proactiva Open Arms

But are they preparing for their 'big surprise'?

The Defend Europe mission is raising a few eyebrows after a prolonged period of silence and an apparent stalling of its voyage.

The ship chartered by the group, the C-Star, has spent the last few days circling off the coast of Tunisia, far from its intended target of the search and rescue zones near the Libyan shore.

The C-Star highlighted in the red box, to the right, on the map above

Additionally, the last update from aboard the boat was a picture posted on Twitter four days ago, showing the crew shouting at a boat through a megaphone.

Defend Europe’s mission is to “achieve a complete documentation and observation of the doings of those NGOs” with the ultimate aim of stopping them operating in the Mediterranean. 

But the uncharacteristic silence from the group has prompted the founder of one of the NGOs in their sights, Oscar Champs of Proactiva Open Arms, to have a little dig at them. 

It’s impossible to say for sure what is causing the reduced tempo of the Defend Europe mission - HuffPost UK has contacted the group but they have yet to respond.

One possibility is that they could be in preparation for something big.

Earlier this week a spokesperson for the group told HuffPost UK: “Within the next few days we also have another big surprise for NGOs, traffickers and the pro-migration media.”

Or they could be stranded - the group was reportedly planning to dock in Tunisia but local protests and a ban on entering the country’s ports forced them to abandon that idea.

Defend Europe has found itself outpaced by events far beyond its control - an Italian naval mission to curb migrant flows and a new code of conduct for NGO boats are having a dramatic effect on rescue missions, independently to the C-Star’s mission.

An increase in the number of migrants intercepted by Libya’s coast guard whilst crossing the Mediterranean means more are now trapped in horrific conditions in the country’s notorious detention centres, a leading NGO has said.

Ships operated by aid charities have noted a marked reduction in the number of rescues required in recent weeks which coincides with an Italian naval mission to assist the Libyan coast guard to curb the flow of migrants.

The numbers making the journey had been slowing over recent months but dropped sharply during the first weekend of the operation as 1,124 people were intercepted, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

But aid groups suggest the apparent stemming of one problem is exacerbating another far bigger issue.

Marcella Kraay, MSF-OCA Project Coordinator currently aboard the Aquarius, told HuffPost UK: “This may sound like a solution of the problem [of people-trafficking] but actually it’s more a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

“What this actually means is people are being returned to Libya which is not a safe place.”

Around 2,230 people, most of them fleeing poverty, violence and forced military conscription, died in the first seven months of 2017 trying to make the sea crossing.