Report- “Forensic Oceanography: Left-to-Die Boat Case”

A report has been released which addresses new details surrounding the deaths of 63 migrants who died one year ago after their disabled boat drifted for days within an area that was heavily patrolled by NATO warships.  The report, Forensic Oceanography: Left-to-Die Boat Case- 11April2012, was prepared by researchers at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London, and by others, and was released earlier today in conjunction with the announcement in Paris by a coalition of NGOs that a legal process against the French military for alleged failure to rescue has been commenced by several survivors from the migrant boat.

Click here for today’s Guardian article on the Report.

Excerpt: “1.1 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The UNHCR defined 2011 as the “deadliest year” in the Mediterranean since the organisation began recording these statistics in 2006, estimating that over 1,500 migrants died while fleeing Libya during the initial stages of the violent conflict.  This number is extremely high in comparison to the 13,417 deaths documented from 1988 to March 2012 at the maritime borders of the EU, and the 6,226 deaths occurred solely in the Sicily Channel during the same period.  Furthermore, the loss of lives at sea in 2011 occurred despite the significant naval and aerial presence in the area due to the military intervention in Libya launched by an international coalition of states and NATO (hereafter referred to as ”participating states/NATO”) under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.

One particular event, reported by the international press, provoked widespread public outrage. In the case of what is now referred to as the “left-to-die boat”, 72 migrants fleeing Tripoli by boat on the early morning of March 27 2011 ran out of fuel and were left to drift for 14 days until they landed back on the Libyan coast. With no water or food on-board, only nine of the migrants survived. In several interviews, these survivors recounted the various points of contacts they had with the external world during this ordeal. This included describing the aircraft that flew over them, the distress call they sent out via satellite telephone and their visual sightings of a military helicopter which provided a few packets of biscuits and bottles of water and a military ship which failed to provide any assistance whatsoever. The events, as recounted by these survivors, appeared to constitute a severe violation of the legal obligation to provide assistance to any person in distress at sea, an obligation sanctioned by several international conventions.

In response to this incident, several initiatives were undertaken to shed light on these deaths and demand accountability for them. On 10 May 2011, Human Rights Watch demanded that NATO and its member countries conduct a full investigation of the case.  On 9 June 2011, the French NGO GISTI sent out a public call which led to the formation of a coalition of NGOs (constituted primarily by CIRÉ, FIDH, GISTI, LDH, and Migreurop) that sought accountability for the non-assistance of migrants at sea during and in the aftermath of Arab Spring in general and in the case of the “left-to-die boat” in particular.  The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) appointed the Dutch Senator Tineke Strik to prepare an in-depth report on the deaths that have occurred in the Mediterranean in 2011. Her report titled “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?” was presented in Brussels on 29 March 2012.

The enclosed report focuses on the spatial analysis of data surrounding the case of the “left-to-die boat” and includes a series of visualizations that supplement the written reports produced by the organisations and institutions mentioned above. In order to generate our analysis and report we employed a wide range of digital mapping and modelling technologies, which included the use of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery, geospatial mapping, and drift modelling. In combining these technologies to elucidate the chain of events of this particular case we also suggest new ways in which these emergent technologies could be applied to the field of international law and human rights advocacy.

In collecting, analysing, and synthesising data, reports, and human testimonies related to the case, this report reconstructs as accurately as possible what happened to this vessel. It ultimately aims to answer the following question: what happened to the “left-to-die boat” and who was involved in the events leading to the deaths of 63 migrants? While some differences between oral testimonies occur on specific points and while there are some instances in which more data would have been desirable, overall a coherent picture emerges from the synthesis of these disparate bodies of information, a picture that demonstrates how the migrants were lead to a slow death despite repeated contacts with several parties. An abbreviated summary of key events is outlined as follows (fig. 2):

  • • In the early morning of 27 March 2011, between 00:00 and 02:00 GMT, a Zodiac-style rubber boat, approximately 10 metres in length with 72 people on-board left the port next to the Medina (Old City) of Tripoli, Libya and headed in the direction of the island of Lampedusa in Southern Italy.
  • • At 14:55 GMT an aircraft flew over the migrants’ vessel notifying the Italian Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC) of its sighting. This fly-over generated a photograph and provided the exact location of the vessel (fig. 2A).
  • • At the end of the afternoon of the same day, with little fuel and almost no food and water left and no sight of land, the migrants called Father Zerai, an Eritrean priest based in Rome, by satellite phone to ask for help. After receiving the call, Father Zerai informed of the situation Rome MRCC, which after obtaining the GPS location of the boat at 16:52 GMT from the satellite provider (fig. 2B), informed their Maltese counterparts, NATO’s Naples Maritime HQ and sent out a distress signal to all ships in the area.
  • • Two to three hours after having placed the call and while the migrants’ vessel continued sailing in the direction of Lampedusa, it was flown over by a military helicopter, which bore the writing “ARMY” or “RESCUE ARMY” on its side. Despite the migrants’ clearly identifiable gestures for help – waving, holding the babies on board at arms length, showing the empty tanks of petrol -, the helicopter hovered over the boat but left without providing any immediate assistance. The migrants now believed they would soon be saved, and the “captain” therefore threw overboard the satellite phone, which had failing batteries and could have been used as evidence of his involvement in a smuggling network. The last GPS position registered by the satellite provider at 19:08 GMT (fig. 2C) thus corresponds in all likelihood to the location of the first helicopter encounter.
  • • After 4-5 hours of waiting, floating in approximately the same position and with no sign of rescue, the migrants decided to ask for help from some fishermen, whose boats they noticed around them. They attempted to reach those boats but the fishermen too left without providing any assistance. Shortly afterwards, and still in approximately the same position, the same helicopter came back. This time, military personnel on-board threw down 8 bottles of water and a few packets of biscuits before leaving again.
  • • Following this second helicopter visit, the migrants were shown the direction of Lampedusa by yet another fishing vessel. Between 00:00 and 01:00 GMT on 28 March 2011, they resumed movement in this direction for 5-8 hours until they ran out of fuel in the early morning (fig. 2D). From this moment, until they landed back on the Libyan coast, their boat drifted on the open sea without any use of its motor.
  • • After several days of drifting, between the 3rd and 4th of April, the migrants encountered a military ship with one or two helicopters on its deck (fig. 2E). The migrants got as close as 10 metres to this ship in their plea for help. The crew on the deck of the military ship did not provide assistance and only took photos before departing.
  • • The migrants’ vessel continued to drift until it eventually landed back on the coast of Libya, near Zlitan, on April 10th. In total, the boat drifted for 14 days. Of the 72 people who departed from Tripoli only 11 survived. One woman died shortly after arriving ashore, while the others were caught and imprisoned by Libyan soldiers. During the imprisonment another person died. In total nine people survived the journey and 63 perished.

While the involvement of all actors in these dramatic events will be discussed in greater detail in chapter three, the reconstruction of the events will clearly demonstrate that the actions or inactions of different actors contributed to the death of 63 migrants. At least one patrol aircraft, one helicopter, two fishing boats, and a military ship, whose identities still remain unknown, allegedly had direct contact with the boat. Moreover, the Italian and Maltese MRCC as well as participating states/NATO forces present in the area were informed of the distress of the boat and of its location, and had the technical and logistical ability to assist it. Despite all this, none of these actors intervened in a way that could have averted the tragic fate of the people on the boat.

In her report “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?” Senator Tineke Strik has spoken of a “catalogue of failures” that led to the loss of “many opportunities for saving the lives of the persons on board the boat.” Furthermore, these deaths occurred in an area that was under strict surveillance by NATO to enforce an arms embargo as provided for by UNSCR 1973 and where at least 38 naval assets were present at some time during the event. While this report focuses on the “left-to-die boat” case specifically, it should be recalled once again that this is only one amongst the many incidents that have caused the death of more than 13,417 deaths at the maritime borders of the EU over the last 20 years.”

Click on following link, Forensic Oceanography: Left-to-Die Boat 11April2012  , for report.

Click here for Guardian article on report.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Analysis, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, Reports

One response to “Report- “Forensic Oceanography: Left-to-Die Boat Case”

  1. Pingback: New Publications on Humanitarian Space; Youth Displacement; Forensic Oceanography; Humanitarian Assistance; Peacebuilding | Refugee Archives Blog

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