Oh won’t someone think of the civilians!!!! Unless they are migrants, then fuck ‘em let’s watch them die. Numerous commands had to have followed the orders to let them die, not a single honourable captain among them. Militaries are the means and they take orders from politicians and both of those parties are not overwhelming known for their humanitarian integrity-
At 7.54pm on 27 March, Rome MRCC sent out the first of dozens of distress calls targeted at nearby ships that could have come to the migrants’ aid. Labelled “Priority: Distress” – the highest emergency phrase possible under the international Search and Rescue convention – the message gave the boat’s co-ordinates and was broadcast on the Inmarsat satellite network, which all maritime vessels, be they commercial, private or military, must be equipped to receive. The MRCC followed up this broadcast with faxes sent to their counterparts in Malta as well as to Nato’s high command headquarters in Naples and other relevant agencies.
The following day a further alert message was sent in the form of a Hydrolant navigational warning, which would have been received by all ships in the area: “Vessel, 68 persons on board [actually 72], in need of assistance … assist if possible.”
Nato initially denied having any knowledge of the incident, but later it admitted its high command had received a fax from Rome MRCC raising the issue of the migrant boat and said it forwarded the information to all vessels under its command. That would have included the Mendez Núñez, a Spanish frigate that was only a few miles from the boat at the time, but the Spanish defence ministry has denied receiving any communications on the matter. Nato has criticised the Rome MRCC fax for being unclear, but the Council of Europe report into the case describes the language used in the emergency alerts as “unambiguous” and concludes: “It is clear that all maritime vessels in the region were alerted to the situation of the boat.”
More than 500 miles from Rome, with the satellite phone now useless, those on board the migrant boat could do nothing but sit and hope that their pleas for help would be answered. A few hours later, a military helicopter appeared in the distance. It approached the boat and hovered above it, before disappearing and returning with some small bottles of water and a few packets of biscuits which they lowered down to the passengers below.
“Oh my God, we felt so happy at that time,” recalled Abu Kurke, one of the survivors. “People were thanking the lord that we were going to survive and were about to reach Italy.” The helicopter pilots, who eyewitnesses say were dressed in military uniform and carried guns, indicated that they would return and that the migrants should hold their position. The helicopter flew off and was never seen again.
Believing that a rescue was imminent, the captain threw the compass and phone overboard for fear that he would be suspected of being a smuggler upon arrival in Europe. Thus began an excruciating wait for help, hope dripping away with each passing hour. “We felt angry,” says Abu Kurke. “There was nothing left to do but pray to God. Everybody prayed.”
By the following day it was clear no rescue was coming. The mood shifted, arguments erupted, and finally a decision was made to use the last of the petrol to motor on in a north-westerly direction in the hope that they might find Lampedusa or another vessel. With the compass at the bottom of the ocean, the captain attempted to navigate by the sun, but within a few hours the fuel tank was empty and the migrants were stranded in the middle of the Mediterranean.
From this moment on, the dinghy was left to drift. Storms dashed large waves against the boat, washing some overboard. In moments of calm, the migrants would sometimes see fishing boats nearby, including ones flying the Italian and Tunisian flags. A Tunisian fishing boat even approached the migrants and told them they were going the wrong way for Lampedusa; according to the survivors, when the passengers explained they had run out of fuel the fishermen simply “ran away” and the migrants were left alone again.
Over the following days, passengers were replaced by corpses. A final bottle of water had been saved for the two babies, whose parents had died of thirst and starvation, but they soon died, too. Some of the adults tried to drink seawater, but it only made them sicker. “Every morning we would wake up and find more bodies, which we would leave for 24 hours and then throw overboard,” said Abu Kurke, who survived by drinking his own urine and eating small amounts of toothpaste. “By the final days, we didn’t know ourselves. Everyone was either praying or dying.”
On what most of the survivors believe to be their 10th day at sea, the boat encountered a large military vessel with aircraft facilities on board. The migrants came so close that they could see some of those on the deck taking photos of them, and they held up the dead babies and empty fuel tanks to demonstrate their plight. In desperation, some even jumped in the water and began pushing the migrant boat towards the military vessel. Soon, however, the ship moved away. “They kept wandering off and we kept following … gradually they just disappeared,” remembers Girma Halefom, another survivor.
On 10 April, the boat washed up on the shore of Libya, less than 40 miles west of Misrata. Of the 72 who had set sail two weeks earlier, just 11 remained alive. Two more perished soon after landing.
The Mediterranean is one of the world’s busiest shipping areas and is referred to in the Council of Europe’s report as having “the best surveillance in the world”. “When we talk about the Mediterranean, we do not talk about a deserted sea,” says the report. “On the contrary, we talk about a sea with a complex and dense network of maritime traffic with a developed system of monitoring movements and dealing with boats in distress.”
It was the fact that a migrant vessel in distress could be left to drift for 15 days unaided in such a sea, despite several government authorities, military powers and commercial vessels being aware of both its plight and location, that prompted the Council of Europe inquiry.