Tag Archives: Italian Coast Guard

Lampedusa – 300 or more dead in latest accident, what can be done to stop migrant deaths at sea?

Italian authorities have so far recovered about 120 bodies from yesterday’s accident a very very short distance from the shores of Lampedusa. Authorities believe there may be more than 150 bodies of children, women, and men still to be recovered.

What can be done to prevent such deaths? It is certainly possible that nothing could have prevented yesterday’s disaster.  This was not a case of a disabled boat left to drift at sea while ships and aircraft failed to assist.  This was not a case involving a failure to act promptly to rescue persons in distress.  This was not a case of a diplomatic dispute between countries over which country had the responsibility to rescue and where rescued persons were to be disembarked after rescue.  It may turn out to be the case that someone observed the overloaded migrant boat as it sailed from Libya towards Lampedusa.  If the migrant boat was observed by a commercial or military ship, a rescue operation probably should have been implemented immediately.  But while the Mediterranean Sea is crowded with ships, it is certainly possible that this boat sailed unobserved from Libya to Lampedusa.

Could anything have been done to prevent these deaths?

Could anything have been done to prevent the deaths of 13 migrants who drowned on the beach at Sicily last week? Or the 31 people who drowned off the Libyan coast in July? Or the 20 who died near Lesvos Island in Greece last December, the 89 who died in the Strait of Gibraltar over 10 days in October-November 2012, or the 58 who died off the coast of Izmir, Turkey in September 2012?  (For a more complete list of reported deaths at sea consult Fortress Europe’s La Strage web page (the Massacre).)

As long as people move, whether forced to flee danger or to improve their lives or for other reasons, there will be dangers on land and sea.  The dangers will always be greater when people are compelled to move outside of legal channels. Creating more opportunities for legal migration and creating an external procedure for seeking refugee protection within the EU would help many people and would reduce the numbers of people traveling by dangerous means.  But there will still be people unable to secure a visa or protection who would be compelled to travel by sea. 

There are many measures that can be taken by the EU to reduce the numbers of people dying in the Mediterranean and off the coast of western Africa.  As a reminder, here is an excerpt from the recommendations issued last year by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in the report issued in the aftermath of the deaths of 63 people on board the “left to die” boat that drifted in the Mediterranean for two weeks. The recommendations made sense then as they do now:

  •  fill the vacuum of responsibility for an SAR zone left by a State which cannot or does not exercise its responsibility for search and rescue, such as was the case for Libya. This may require amending the International Maritime Search and Rescue Convention (SAR Convention)….;
  • ensure that there are clear and simple guidelines, which are then followed, on what amounts to a distress signal, so as to avoid any confusion over the obligation to launch a search and rescue operation for a boat in distress;
  • avoid differing interpretations of what constitutes a vessel in distress, in particular as concerns overloaded, unseaworthy boats, even if under propulsion, and render appropriate assistance to such vessels. Whenever safety requires that a vessel be assisted, this should lead to rescue actions;
  • tackle the reasons why commercial vessels fail to go to the rescue of boats in distress. This will require dealing with:
    • the economic consequences for the rescuing vessel and its owners, and the issue of compensation;
    • the disagreement between Malta and Italy as to whether disembarkation should be to the nearest safe port or to a port within the country of the SAR zone. The International Maritime Organization should be urged to find a solution to the matter and step up its efforts towards a harmonised interpretation and application of international maritime law;
    • the fear of criminalisation (trafficking or aiding and abetting irregular migration) by those who go to the rescue of boats carrying irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees;
    • legislation to criminalise private shipmasters who fail to comply with their duty under the law of the sea, as is already the case in certain Council of Europe member States;
  • ensure that, in accordance with the Hirsi v. Italy judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, after the rescue operation, people are not pushed back to a country where they risk being treated in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights;
  • tackle the issue of responsibility sharing, particularly in the context of rescue services, disembarkation, administration of asylum requests, setting up reception facilities and relocation and resettlement, with a view to developing a binding European Union protocol for the Mediterranean region. The heavy burden placed on frontline States leads to a problem of saturation and a reluctance to take responsibility;
  • respect the families’ right to know the fate of those who lose their lives at sea by improving identity data collection and sharing. This could include the setting up of a DNA file of the remains of those retrieved from the Mediterranean Sea. In this context, the ongoing work of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other organisations should be acknowledged and supported.

For more on this, see Jack Shenker’s article in today’s Guardian, “Mediterranean migrant deaths: a litany of largely avoidable loss.”

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Filed under Council of Europe, European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean

Italy Diverts Additional Commercial Ships to Rescue Migrants

The Italian news agency AGI reported that Italian search and rescue authorities yesterday diverted two commercial ships, the Patroclus, a Maltese oil tanker, and the Cdry White, an Italian cargo ship, to assist with the rescue of two groups of migrants.  The first group of approximately 76 migrants was rescued about 40 miles from Tripoli by an Italian coastguard vessel; the group was then transferred to the Cdry White.  The Patroclus appears to have directly rescued a group of approximately 97 migrants south of Lampedusa.  AGI reported that the two commercial ships are sailing to Trapani and Pozzallo in Sicily to disembark the rescued migrants.

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PACE Report on “Lives Lost in the Mediterranean Sea: Who is Responsible?” Scheduled for Release on 29 March

The draft report prepared by Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”, will be considered on 29 March in a closed session by the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.

If the draft report receives committee approval it will be released to the public by Ms. Strik at a press conference scheduled for 2 p.m. CET.  Representatives from HRW and FIDH will participate in the press conference.  (Click here for HRW press release.) The report will be next be considered during “plenary debate by the 318-member Parliamentary Assembly, probably on Tuesday 24 April during its spring session in Strasbourg.”

Full text of PACE press release:  “Strasbourg, 26.03.2012 – Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), rapporteur for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on ‘Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?’ will present her draft report at a press conference in Brussels on Thursday 29th March 2012.

The report is the result of a nine-month inquiry, launched at the request of 34 Assembly members, following a March 2011 incident in which it is alleged that 63 people attempting to flee the conflict in Libya died at sea after their appeals for rescue were ignored, including by armed forces operating in the area.

Ahead of her presentation, Ms Strik commented: ‘Since the beginning of 2011 at least 1,500 people are known to have perished in the Mediterranean trying to reach European soil – despite this being one of the busiest and best-monitored seas in the world. My inquiry has focused on one particularly tragic incident, in which 63 people died, to try to establish who bears responsibility for their deaths. I have been deeply shocked by what I have learned.’

As part of her inquiry, Tineke Strik spoke at length with survivors, search and rescue authorities from Italy and Malta, as well as NATO and EU officials, and put detailed written questions to a number of governments, including those with vessels with aircraft-carrying facilities in the area at the time. She also obtained a reconstruction of the voyage using the science of forensic oceanography.

The same day, prior to the press conference, Ms Strik will present her report to PACE’s Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, meeting in closed session. If approved by the committee, the report will go forward for plenary debate by the 318-member Parliamentary Assembly, probably on Tuesday 24 April during its spring session in Strasbourg.

* * *

Notes for editors

Press conference

The press conference will take place at 2 p.m. on Thursday 29th March at the Council of Europe office in Brussels (Avenue des Nerviens 85 / Nerviërslaan 85, B-1040 Brussels). The rapporteur will be joined by representatives of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Human Rights Watch. A video recording of the press conference will be made available at the link above, and on the PACE website, as soon as possible after it ends.

Copies of the report

If approved by the committee, the full text of the report will be posted on the Assembly’s website at around 2 p.m. Central European Time.

Contacts

Angus Macdonald, PACE Communication Division, mobile +33 (0)6 30 49 68 20.
Andrew Cutting, Council of Europe Office in Brussels, mobile +32 (0)485 21 72 02.

Motion: the request for an inquiry

PACE President’s statement, May 2011

Web file and timeline: Europe’s boat people

Video recording of press conference (when available)

Click here for PACE Press Release of 26 March.

Click here for Committee meeting agenda.

Click here for HRW Press Release of 26 March.

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PACE Rapporteur Conducts Interviews in Italy Regarding Mediterranean Migrant Deaths

Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) concluded a two day fact-finding trip to Italy on 7 September as Rapporteur for the PACE Migration Committee.  She is investigating the deaths of boat people who have died in the Mediterranean since January 2011.  Strik interviewed Father Moses Zerai, an Eritrean priest, who was in satellite phone contact with several migrant boats during their voyages from Libya, including the disabled migrant boat that drifted for days in March-April this year and on which 61 persons are believed to have died.  In addition to Zerai, Strik interviewed three of the nine survivors from the boat, Italian Coastguard officials, and NGO and UNHCR staff.  Strik “is planning interviews with officials from Nato and the Maltese government, which the Italian coastguard says was alerted to the boat’s plight.”

From the PACE press statement: “‘There is an obligation to help all people in distress.  If anyone did not live up to this responsibility and deliberately did not assist them, they must not be allowed to get away with it. … The testimonies of witnesses directly involved in this incident are coherent, but we have to continue to collect more data and information on who was when and where in the area,’ Mrs Strik reported.  ‘My mission is to try to find out what went wrong, and if there was perhaps a gap in responsibility-sharing. The recommendation which will be contained in my report is aimed at establishing responsibilities and trying to determine how to deal with such incidents in the future. We have to draw the right lessons to prevent similar situations from occurring again.  … At the end of my inquiry, I expect national jurisdictions, governments and parliaments to carry on the investigations and I very much hope that the dynamic of truth … will pave the way,’ she concluded.”

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

Click here for PACE press statement.

Click here for previous post.

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Filed under Council of Europe, European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Tunisia, UNHCR

PACE Rapporteur to Begin Fact-Finding Mission to Italy to Investigate Mediterranean Migrant Deaths

Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) will begin a two day fact-finding trip to Italy on 6 September as Rapporteur for the PACE Migration Committee (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe).  She is investigating the deaths of boat people who have died in the Mediterranean since January 2011.

From the PACE press statement of 2 September:  “Meetings are scheduled with survivors of a shipwreck, officers of Italian coastguard units, representatives of NGOs active in the field and representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  During her visit the rapporteur will in particular look into the way boats are intercepted – or not intercepted – by national coastguard forces, or by military vessels under either NATO or national command.  Further to reports that migrants and refugees have perished after their distress calls were ignored, the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population appointed Ms Strik in June to conduct an inquiry into these matters.”

From the PACE press statement issued in June 2011: “‘There have been allegations that migrants and refugees are dying after their appeals for rescue have been ignored,’ said Mrs Strik. ‘Such a grave allegation must be urgently investigated.  I intend to look into the manner in which these boats are intercepted – or not – by the different national coastguards, the EU’s border agency FRONTEX, or even military vessels. I also intend to speak to witnesses directly involved in reported incidents, and put questions to national authorities, the UNHCR, FRONTEX and NATO, among others.’  On 8 May, the Guardian newspaper reported that 61 boat people escaping from Libya had died after their appeals for rescue had been ignored by armed forces operating in the Mediterranean. The following day PACE President Mevlüt Çavusoglu called for ‘an immediate and comprehensive enquiry’ into the incident.”

Presumably Ms. Strik’s investigation will also seek information from Maltese authorities.  The Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre run by the Armed Forces of Malta is in possession of relevant information pertaining to incidents within the Maltese Search and Rescue Area where many (perhaps most?) of the migrant deaths have occurred.

Click here and here for COE press statements.

Click here for link to COE’s web page regarding “PACE’s Response to Migrants and refugees arriving from North Africa.”

Click here and here for my previous posts on the topic.

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Malta Blocks Italian Navy Ship From Disembarking 334 Rescued Migrants

Malta yesterday refused permission to the Italian Navy ship Borsini to land in Malta for the purpose of disembarking 334 rescued migrants.  The migrants were rescued in the Maltese Search and Rescue Area south of Lampedusa on Saturday by several Italian coastguard patrol boats and transferred at sea to the Borsini.  The Borsini then sailed to Malta.  Malta refused permission because it said that Lampedusa or Tunisia were the closest safe locations.  The Italians sought to disembark the rescued migrants at Malta because Lampedusa was overwhelmed with the arrivals of approximately 2000 migrants over the past 36 hours.  The Borsini left Malta and is sailing to Taranto on the Italian mainland to disembark the migrants.

Click here and here for articles.

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Italian Coast Guard: 44,000 Migrants Reach Italy by Boat in First Half of 2011

In a presentation on 28 June before the Italian Parliament’s Schengen Committee (Comitato parlamentare di controllo sull’attuazione dell’accordo di Schengen), officials from the Italian Coast Guard reported that at least 44,000 migrants have reached Italy by boat so far in 2011.

1,000 additional migrants arrived in Lampedusa over the 24 hour period Wednesay to Thursday of this week.  With the exception of one small boat carrying 8 Tunisians, all of the boats are believed to have left from Libya in recent days.

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

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Filed under Data / Stats, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, News, Tunisia

Italy Criticises Malta Regarding Search and Rescue Response

Italian Interior Minister Maroni has criticised Malta for failing to immediately deploy rescue ships to assist the migrant boat that sank near Lampedusa.  The Armed Forces of Malta said that the migrant boat did not capsize until after two Italian coast guard boats had responded and were on scene attempting to render assistance.  The AFM said the first call for assistance was received Wednesday at 0025, the Rescue Co-ordination Centre of the AFM notified Italian Coast Guard headquarters in Rome and NATO headquarter in Naples at 0120, two Italian coast guard boats and an Italian fishing vessel, the Cartagine, were on scene by 0416, and the migrant boat capsized around 0535.  The migrant boat was closer to Italian territory than to Malta, but was located within Malta’s large Search and Rescue Area.  Italy and Malta have had past disputes over the boundaries of the SAR with Italy calling for the Maltese SAR to be reduced in size.

The Secretary-General of International Maritime Organization, Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, issued a statement saying that “[i]t was ironic that the devastating news of this latest tragedy reached us while we were holding a [Legal Committtee] meeting with representatives of Italy and Spain to consider what measures countries in the Mediterranean Basin should take to deal with the increasing number of persons leaving north African and eastern Mediterranean countries to seek refuge in Europe.”

The statement also said that “IMO is in contact with Italy, Malta and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  The [Legal Committee] meeting mentioned above was hosted by IMO and held against a background of increasing movement of persons by sea for political and socio-economic reasons or as a result of armed conflict.  It was part of an on-going process aimed at improving existing provisions for rescuing migrants at sea and disembarking them at a place of safety, in accordance with the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR Convention) and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS Convention).”

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

Click here for article. (IT)

Click here for map the SARs.

Click here for IMO Statement.

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