Tag Archives: Almirante Juan de Borbón

Update Regarding PACE Investigation into Migrant Deaths in the Mediterranean

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.

Click here and here for my previous posts on the March 2011 incident.

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.

Click here and here for my previous posts on the July 2011 incident.

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 and here for Guardian articles.

Click here for my last post of the PACE 29 Nov. hearing.

HMCS Charlottetown and migrant boat 25 March 2011.

Photo Credit: Lt(N) Michael McWhinnie, Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces

Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón rescuing migrant boat on 10 July 2011 and transferring migrants to Tunisian navy vessel on 16 July 2011.

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

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[Post Updated 4 August] Spanish Defence Ministry: NATO Instructed Spanish Navy to Transfer Rescued Migrants to Tunisia

A press release issued yesterday by the Spanish Ministry of Defence states that the 114 migrants who were rescued by the Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón on 11 July were transferred to Tunisian authorities on 16 July pursuant to orders issued by NATO command.

I previously have sought clarification from both NATO and the Spanish Defence Ministry regarding who made the decision to turn the rescued migrants over to Tunisian authorities and what procedures, if any, were followed to screen rescued migrants before the transfer.  NATO’s Operation Unified Protector press office informed me that all inquiries had to be directed to the Spanish Defence Ministry.  The Defence Ministry’s press office in turn has ignored my inquiries.

[Update – 4 August – I received information today from Communication Office of the Spanish Ministry of Defence reiterating that the Spanish frigate was under NATO command as an asset participating in NATO’s Operation Unified Protector.  According to the Communication Office, after the Spanish frigate commander made the decision that the migrants needed to be rescued, all of the frigate’s subsequent actions were carried out pursuant to specific commands issued by the NATO command, including the final order to transfer the migrants to Tunisian authorities.  Spanish authorities were never involved in discussions or negotiations with other countries regarding the rescued migrants.  The Communication Office referred me to NATO’s OUP Press Office for information regarding any further details of the operation.  I will try again with NATO.]

The press release issued yesterday pertains to a visit made to the Spanish  frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón by Italian Rear Admiral Filippo Maria Foffi, Commander of the NATO naval task group for Operation Unified Protector, where he praised the crew of the frigate for the rescue operation.

The press release goes on to state that after the migrants were taken on board the frigate on 11 July, “on orders from NATO command, the Juan de Borbón sailed to Malta and took a position 40 miles off the coast of that country. On 16 July, instructed by the command of NATO, the Spanish frigate headed for the coast of Tunisia to start the transfer to the Tunisian Navy patrol boat Carthage of the 106 immigrants who were still on board, after the earlier evacuation of eight persons for health and medical reasons.”

(“…siguiendo órdenes del mando de la OTAN, la ‘Juan de Borbón’ puso rumbo a Malta posicionándose a 40 millas frente a las costas de ese país.  El pasado 16 de julio, siguiendo instrucciones del mando de la Alianza, se dirigió hacia las costas de Túnez para iniciar el traslado al patrullero Carthage de la Armada tunecina, de los 106 inmigrantes que aún permanecían a bordo tras la evacuación de ocho personas por motivos médicos y de salud…”)

The Spanish government and NATO are rightfully to be praised for the rescue operation.  What is unfortunate is the lack of transparency on the part of both NATO and the Spanish Defence Ministry in regard to why the decision was made to transfer the migrants to Tunisia and what procedures, if any, were used to screen the migrants for claims to international protection.

Click here for Defence Ministry Press Release. (ES)

Click here for my last post on this topic.

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NATO Transfers Rescued Migrants to Tunisia

According to information provided by the Spanish Ministry of Defence, the Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón sailed to Tunisia earlier this morning (16 July) and, while remaining outside Tunisian waters near Zarzis, transferred the remaining 106 rescued migrants to the Carthage, a Tunisian naval vessel.  114 migrants were initially rescued by the Spanish ship.  5 of the migrants were airlifted to Malta for medical reasons on 13 July.  On 11 July, shortly after the initial rescue of the migrant boat, 3 migrants were evacuated and turned over to Tunisian authorities.  The original 114 consisted of 88 men, 20 women (5 of whom are pregnant), and 6 children. The Defence Ministry said that the decision to transfer the migrants to Tunisian authorities was a NATO decision.

While the decision to disembark the migrants in Tunisia is better than sending them to eastern Libya (something I was fearful would occur), Tunisia is problematic for several reasons.  The migrant boat was reportedly carrying Tunisians.  To the extent that any of them may have had claims for international protection, the claims have been effectively eliminated.   It is not known whether any efforts were made to assess whether any of the Tunisians had claims for international protection.   And to the extent that any of the non-Tunisians have claims for international protection, Tunisia is clearly less able to handle such claims and less able to provide care for asylum seekers relative to Malta, Italy, or Spain (or any of the NATO countries participating in Operation Unified Protector).

[17 July update – NATO’s OUP Press Office informed me earlier today that any questions regarding who made the decision to transfer the migrants to Tunisia and whether any of the migrants were screened for claims for international protection had to directed to the Spanish Ministry of Defence.]

Click here (EN), here (ES), and here (ES) for articles.

Click here for Spanish Ministry of Defence press statement and additional photos. (ES)

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

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Malta Says the 111 Rescued Migrants Aboard Spanish Frigate Are NATO’s Problem, Not Malta’s Problem

The stand-off between Malta, Spain, and NATO continues.  111 rescued migrants remain on board the Spanish Navy frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbón.  Maltese authorities criticised the attempt to bring the rescued migrants to Malta and have said that the migrants should have been taken to Tunisia or Italy because both locations were closer to the original point of rescue.  Malta has now allowed a total of 5 migrants to be airlifted to Malta for medical care.  The frigate remains at sea near Malta with the 111 migrants, including women and children, and a crew of 250 sailors.

At a press conference yesterday, Maltese Interior Minister, Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, said that while Malta decided to allow the transfer of several rescued migrants to Malta for emergency medical treatment, it has no intention of allowing the other rescued migrants to be disembarked in Malta.  According to the Times of Malta, Mifsud Bonnici said “the problem is not Malta’s, it is Nato’s.  Malta is a sovereign state and it demands that it be respected as such. This is not a standoff with Spain or Italy and we await Nato’s replies.”

It is unclear from various media reports whether Italian authorities formally refused permission to the Spanish frigate to dock in Lampedusa, but some reports suggest there was communication with Italian authorities who said that Lampedusa’s immigrant reception facilities were at capacity.  Well over a thousand migrants have landed in Lampedusa in recent days.

There are also some media reports which suggest that the Spanish government may be taking the position that since the Spanish frigate is under NATO command as part of Operation Unified Protector, NATO therefore must decide where the migrants are to be disembarked.

The head of the Armed Forces of Malta has taken the bizarre position that the Spanish ship is well-equipped to care for the rescued migrants and that therefore there is no urgency in regard to removing the migrants from the ship for humanitarian reasons.

Meanwhile, the NATO naval embargo of Libya is missing one ship.  NATO had 17 ships under its command patrolling the Central Mediterranean, now there are 16 ships.  The Spanish frigate has been effectively removed from its embargo duties as it waits for a resolution to the stand-off.  If and when another migrant boat requires rescue by a ship under NATO command, will the NATO embargo be further weakened?  The obligations of NATO ships to rescue migrant boats in distress under SOLAS are clear, and NATO has repeatedly said that it will rescue migrant boats when required, but one must be fearful of a situation arising, as it does with commercial ships, where a NATO vessel’s commander may be less willing to conclude that a migrant boat is in need of rescue knowing that the act of rescuing the migrants may result in the NATO ship being removed from its mission because it is unable to quickly disembark the rescued migrants.

Click here (EN), here (EN), here (ES), here (IT), and here (IT) for articles.

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Aditus Calls for Immediate Disembarkation of Stranded Migrants

A statement from Aditus, “an independent, voluntary & non-profit organisation established with a view to monitor, act & report on access to fundamental human rights by individuals & groups”, which is based in Malta:

14 July 2011

“’Once again, political discussions take precedence over human lives.  It is at times like these that our consciences are called to do what is right, to ensure a full respect for the fundamental human rights of all persons irrespectively of colour, origin and status.’

It appears that the Maltese and Italian authorities are once again disagreeing over where to disembark a group of around 100 rescued migrants.  Rescued earlier today by a Spanish frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbón, the group of migrants seems to be largely composed of men but also includes several women and children.  According to news reports, the stranded migrants were rescued in Sunday morning yet the date of departure from Libyan shores is as yet unconfirmed.

It is important to emphasise that the rescued persons have fled a situation of civil war, and have possibly been through several harrowing experiences.  ‘It is unclear when they left Libya, yet they have definitely been out at sea for over 5 days.  This can only mean that they are probably exhausted, dehydrated and are in urgent need of physical and psychological assistance.  A warship is definitely not the place to provide this urgent assistance’, commented aditus Chairperson Dr. Neil Falzon.

aditus applauds the crew of the Juan de Borbón for rescuing the persons in distress, yet urges the Italian and Maltese authorities to immediately relieve the warship of rescued migrants, in the interests of both the latter and of the crew itself.  aditus further recalls that international maritime law requires a prompt disembarkation at a place of safety for all persons rescued at sea, and that any prolonged period spent aboard the warship poses severe security, humanitarian and human rights concerns.

aditus therefore appeals to the Italian and Maltese authorities to allow the immediate disembarkation of the rescued persons so that their safety may be guaranteed.

For the longer-term, the two States are urged to seek resolution to this on-going legal impasse that too often has resulted in these tragic incidents.  To this end, aditus strongly recommends the involvement of competent international and regional agencies particularly the European Union, the International Maritime Organisation and NATO.”

Click here for statement.

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Italy and Malta Turn Back NATO Ship Carrying 100 Rescued Migrants

A political and diplomatic standoff is underway between Malta, Italy, Spain and NATO.  The Times of Malta is reporting that the Spanish frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbón, carrying the 100 rescued migrants attempted to dock at Lampedusa after the rescue, “but the Italian authorities refused it entry  and directed the vessel to Malta, which also refused entry, arguing that Lampedusa was the nearest safe port.”  “The Spanish warship is now off Maltese waters while talks are held between Maltese, Italian and Spanish diplomats.  A meeting which included the Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici was being held this afternoon at the Auberge de Castille.  Nato is understood to have appealed to both Italy and Malta to accept the migrants.”  The Times of Malta also reported that a 10 month old baby was flown yesterday from the Spanish frigate to Malta for medical treatment and that a man and pregnant woman were airlifted to Malta today.

Click here for Times of Malta article.

Click here and here for previous posts.

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Rescued Migrants Remain on NATO Ship While Consultations Continue Regarding Place of Disembarkation

According to information provided to me today by the NATO Public Affairs Office for Operation Unified Protector, most of the migrants who were rescued on 10-11 July by a NATO warship are still on board the Spanish Navy frigate.  An unspecified number of the migrants in need of immediate medical attention have been “off-loaded to safety” to an unidentified location.

While the NATO Public Affairs Office did not identify the NATO ship or its nationality, the Spanish Defence Ministry and Navy have previously confirmed that the Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón is the NATO ship that performed the rescue.

According to NATO, “the NATO Frigate responded [on 10 July] to a vessel in distress some 75 miles off the coast of Libya. A NATO ship [then] … provided medical support, food and offered mechanical assistance to the distressed civilians. [On the] 11th of July, the migrants (approximately 100), Ghanaians, Tunisians and Libyans, were transferred onto the NATO ship in accordance with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) protocol…”

Most of the migrants remain on board the Spanish frigate.  NATO says that “the appropriate legal, diplomatic and military authorities are being consulted to determine future course of action.”

I have asked for further information regarding to what location the migrants who were in need of immediate medical attention have been taken.  The possibilities presumably are another ship with appropriate medical facilities, Tunisia, Libya, Italy, Malta, or Spain.

Click here for my previous post on this topic.

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NATO Warship Rescues 100 Migrants from Boat Off Libya; Where Will Migrants Be Disembarked?

A Spanish Navy frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbón, participating in NATO’s Operation Unified Protector, on Sunday rescued approximately 100 migrants who were in a disabled boat that reportedly left Zawiyah, Libya several days ago.  The migrants have been without food and water for at least two days.  Among the rescued persons are pregnant women and children.

It is not clear where the migrants will now be taken.  Some reports indicate that the Spanish Defence Ministry is hoping that Tunisia, Malta, or Italy will receive the migrants.  NATO is reportedly seeking a country to accept the migrants.  The migrants are reportedly from Libya, Tunisia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Hopefully the migrants will be disembarked quickly (assuming it has not already happened) in an appropriate location where any claims for international protection can be properly considered.  It would be problematic if the migrants are required to remain on the Spanish warship for an extended period and if nearby countries refuse to permit the disembarkation.

Click here (EN), here (ES), here (ES) and here (ES) for articles.

Click here and here for Spanish Defence Ministry and Navy press statements.  (ES)

These photos were released by the Ministerio de Defensa de España.

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

 

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