I have sought additional information from NATO and PACE regarding the 29 November hearing held in Paris by the PACE Migration Committee regarding the deaths of boat people in the Mediterranean. I was informed by a PACE official that the minutes of the 29 November hearing will be released during or after the Committee’s next scheduled meeting which will take place in late January 2012.
In my previous post on this topic I incorrectly said that NATO officials attended the 29 November hearing. Instead Ms Strik, the Committee’s rapporteur, met with a senior NATO official in Brussels on 28 November. A NATO official informed me that “during the meeting [with Ms Strik], NATO offered to look into new details of the 28 March 2011 incident which were provided to NATO by Ms Strik. This process is ongoing and we will reply to the Council of Europe in due course.”
The NATO official reiterated to me that NATO ships were “fully aware of their responsibilities” to respond to vessels in distress and noted that during Operation Unified Protector “NATO ships have directly assisted in the rescue of more than 600 people in distress at sea.” The official provided information about two incidents which have previously been reported on:
- “[O]n 26 March 2011, NATO ships responded to information that two migrant ships with over 500 people on board were in distress, which were then provided direct assistance by the Italian authorities. That included a NATO ship using its helicopter to airlift two women and a newborn child to medical help”; and
- “On 10 July 2011, a NATO ship responded to a vessel in distress approximately 75 miles off the coast of Libya. The NATO vessel provided medical support, food and offered mechanical assistance to the distressed migrants. In response to a deterioration of the humanitarian situation onboard, the 114 migrants were transferred onto the NATO ship in accordance with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) protocol and delivered to safety in Tunisia.”
The reference to the 26 March incident presumably relates in part to the Canadian warship, HMCS Charlottetown, which made contact with a disabled migrant boat carrying over 250 migrants on 25 March. The Charlottetown provided food, waters, and repairs to the migrant boat and escorted it until 26 March when the Italian Coast Guard arrived on scene. As far as I can tell from news reports from the time of this incident, there was only one migrant boat involved. NATO’s current statement indicates there was a second migrant boat encountered by NATO at this time.
The 10 July incident relates to the rescue of over 100 migrants by the Spanish Navy frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbón. The rescued migrants remained onboard the Spanish frigate for six days after Malta and Italy refused to permit the NATO ship to enter port to disembark the rescued migrants. The migrants were transferred to a Tunisian navy ship on 16 July and presumably then taken to Tunisia.
Neither of these two incidents relates to the events that occurred between 25 March and 10 April 2011 when a disabled migrant boat drifted for days during which time approximately 60 persons died. Survivors from the migrant boat reported that at various times military ships and helicopters ignored their requests for assistance. The Guardian reported extensively on this subject and the PACE Committee has been seeking information from NATO about this particular incident.
Click here for my last post of the PACE 29 Nov. hearing.
HMCS Charlottetown and migrant boat 25 March 2011.
Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón rescuing migrant boat on 10 July 2011 and transferring migrants to Tunisian navy vessel on 16 July 2011.