Europarat 29.03.2012: „Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?“
On March 29th 2012, the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons of the Council of Europe adopted the provisional version of its report “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”.
Rapporteur: Ms Tineke STRIK, Netherlands, Socialist Group
The starting point for this report is that at least 1 500 people are known to have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2011. This report however focuses on one particularly harrowing case in which a small boat left Tripoli with 72 people on board and after two weeks at sea drifted back to Libya with only nine survivors. No one went to the aid of this boat, despite a distress call logged by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, which pinpointed the boat’s position. There were also a number of alleged direct contacts between the boat in distress and other vessels, including a helicopter that dropped biscuits and water, but never returned, two fishing vessels, both of which refused to provide assistance, and a large military vessel which came into close contact with the boat, but ignored obvious distress signals.
From this story, a catalogue of failures became apparent: the Libyan authorities failed to maintain responsibility for their Search and Rescue zone, the Italian and Maltese Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres failed to launch any search and rescue operation, and NATO failed to react to the distress calls, even though there were military vessels under its control in the boat’s vicinity when the distress call was sent (including the Mendez Núñez which was estimated to have been 11 miles away although this distance is disputed by Spain) The flag States of vessels close to the boat also failed to rescue the people in distress. Furthermore, two unidentified commercial fishing vessels also failed to respond to the direct calls for assistance from the boat in distress. Alongside these failures, a number of shortcomings contributed to the distress calls not being answered, including gaps in the maritime legal framework and a failure by NATO and the individual States militarily involved in Libya to anticipate adequately for an exodus of asylum seekers and refugees. Perhaps of most concern in this case is the alleged failure of the helicopter and the naval vessel to go to the aid of the boat in distress, regardless of whether these were under national command or the command of NATO.
In this case, many opportunities for saving the lives of the persons on board the boat were lost. A series of recommendations are made in the draft resolution to reduce the likelihood of similar tragedies in the future. There is also a request for further information from NATO and relevant member States to identify or carry out an investigation into the identity of the helicopter and ship that allegedly failed to go to the rescue of the boat in distress.