A “vacuum of responsibility” among search and rescue agencies is among a catalogue of failures which led to the Mediterranean deaths of 63 ‘boat people.’
A report published today by the Parliamentary Assembly’s Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons Committee, also states that responsibility for the deaths of those fleeing the Libyan conflict last March lies with NATO, the flag states of naval vessels in the area, the Libyan authorities and reckless smugglers.
The Assembly report, the result of a nine month investigation, declares that NATO “failed to react to distress calls” in a military zone under its control. It points out that the Spanish Navy frigate Méndez Núñez, under NATO command, was reported to be only 11 miles away, although the Spanish authorities dispute the distance. An Italian military vessel, the Borsini, was only 37 nautical miles away. Both vessels were equipped with a helicopter.
The report, authored by Tineke Strik (photo), finds “credible” the testimonies of the nine survivors of the incident, who said that a military helicopter dropped water and biscuits to them and indicated it would return, but failed so to do.
On the tenth day of the voyage – with half the passengers dead – they said “a large military vessel” approached, close enough for them to see crew with binoculars, but sailed away without attempting a rescue.
“Many opportunities of saving the lives of the persons on board were lost,” the committee concludes. It demands that NATO conduct an inquiry into the incident and provide comprehensive answers to outstanding questions.
There should also be an overhaul of maritime regulations to fill the “vacuum of responsibility” when a state cannot carry out search and rescue in its assigned zone and to deal with the dispute between Italy and Malta over which country should be responsible for disembarkation of those rescued at sea.