1280-1480 People Dead in the Central Mediterranean since May 2014
Since May 2014 news reports indicate that the Italian military operation Mare Nostrum repeatedly retreats from the Sea area of Libya, leaving ever-greater gaps that cannot be closed by the Italian coast guard responding to distress-calls. Several shipwrecks have occurred despite distress-calls launched by refugees. These reports only rarely gain media attention. Hereby FFM provides a round-up of all reports concerning drowned boat-people in the Central Mediterranean in the aforementioned period of time that appeared only briefly in a few news-outlets and that were nowhere systematically investigated and summarised. The Italian military operation Mare Nostrum and the governments of the EU and North-Africa do not count the dead.
The censorship-resembling silence concerning the shipwrecks relates to the method of rescuing: the boat-refugees who are rescued by the Italian operation Mare Nostrum or by cargo vessels usually have to hand-in their mobile phones. Only two or three days after they have been brought to land in Sicily or Calabria, direct communication to relatives and their community in Italy is enabled.
When relatives and community-members learn about distress-calls by refugees, they support them by calling the administration in charge. These, however, usually do not get back to them. In this way, days pass by in complete uncertainty and the investigation of shipwrecks becomes tremendously difficult.
Due to this situation, the investigations are extraordinarily inexact. It may be that some reports concerning one and the same event cannot be definitively allocated. It is probable that several other shipwrecks in the period of time were not noticed.
Additionally, the arrests of boat-people by Libyan or Egyptian administrations and their return to North-African camps where torture is practiced are not mentioned. The connection between the detection of refugee-boats by Mare Nostrum/Frontex and the deportation back to North-Africa is documentable in individual cases.
30.04.2014: a UNHCR-representative reports of a ship that sank on the 30th of April – a Somali survivor reports of 40 drowned persons.
On the 6th of May at least 58 refugees are said to have drowned 30 sea miles off Tripoli. On board are reported to have been nationals of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gambia, Mali and Senegal.
Mid-May 2014, 40 refugees drowned.
12.05.2014, a shipwreck occurs with 249 deaths, with 450 refugees on board. Why did the Italian navy retreat? The shipwreck 50 sea miles off the Libyan coast and 100 sea miles off Lampedusa raises alarming questions. Initial investigations by Professor Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo show the following: The details given by the Italian military are in parts contradictory and imprecise. They, however, indicate that the Italian navy (operation Mare Nostrum) has, for the first time since October 2013 intentionally retreated from the area of the Libyan coast. For the first time, so the Italian military stated, it retreated towards Lampedusa and requested the Libyan military to initiate rescue operations. (In these ‘rescue operations’ by the Libyan coast guard in the past months, the Libyan coast guard military repeatedly shot at refugee-boats and thereby killed and injured refugees. Since the Libyan coast guard did not intervene in the imminent shipwreck, Italy requested cargo vessels nearby to engage in rescue efforts. The details given by the Italian military concerning the course of events of the shipwreck are incoherent: Photographs are published that show a slowly sinking ship but the details provided indicate the fast sinking of the refugee-boat. Possibly there has been a second shipwreck nearby so that the details cannot be clearly assigned. The rescued refugees will shed light on this. The cargo vessels reacted too late, the Libyan coast guard not at all. Within the electronic gaze of the Italian military, 249 refugees died. Survivors provide further details.
09.06.2014: Holding out for three days at sea – several deaths
Approximately in June 2014, it is reported from the US that off Libya more than a 100 refugees drowned when three boats sank in the Central Mediterranean.
13.06.2014: Two shipwrecks occurred that presumably cost the lives of more than 200 refugees. On one of the refugee-boats there were at least 90 persons, as reported by the Italian navy. The refugee-boat was detected, monitored and reported to Italy by a Portuguese Frontex-aircraft. The other refugee-board carried 104 people, 10 dead were retrieved (also from earlier shipwrecks). Both boats were 40 sea miles off the Libyan coast. The information about the two shipwrecks was only publicly communicated via the mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini.
Approximately on the 2nd of June, 80 boat-refugees drowned in the Strait of Sicily. The Italian navy rescued 27 survivors, interrogated them for several hours but concealed the shipwreck. Only the UNHCR communicated the shipwreck in public 24 hours later when they spoke to survivors who were brought to Catania. Subsequently the federal prosecutor Giovanni Salvi started investigations but not into the ’sealing-off‘ efforts by the EU that prompts refugees to board unseaworthy boats but against the so-called ‘traffickers’.
On the 6th of June, more than 200 boat-refugees drowned when their boat sank off the Libyan coast near Tripoli. This was reported by the Libyan coast guard and the UNHCR. 12 survivors were rescued.
On 14.07.2014, 40 sea miles off the Libyan cost near the capital Tripoli, another shipwreck occurred with more than 100 deaths. A Turkish cargo vessel rescued 12 survivors who report of the sinking of the boat. While the international media continuously reports about the refugees that were rescued by the navy-operation Mare Nostrum, a censorship-resembling silence prevails concerning the increasing number of shipwrecks between Libya and Sicily in the last two months. While the lives of refuges in transit in Libya become increasingly unbearable in the face of torture in the camps and racist abuse on the streets, the UNHCR completely retreated on the same day of the shipwreck, on 14.07.2014, from Libya.
15.07.2014: 30-181 deaths. Several major news-outlets first report of the death of 30 migrants on a fishing boat carrying more than 600 people, south of Lampedusa in waters between Libya and Malta. The boat was intercepted by Italian and Maltese navy vessels and assisted by two merchant ships. The apparent cause of death was the inhalation of engine fumes. One person died on the way to hospital. Survivors were taken to Italy and two of them were brought to a hospital in Palermo. So far the Italian navy has not released information on the nationalities of the dead and the survivors.
However, between the 22nd and 25th of July the IOM, UNHCR and other news outlets report that more than 750 people had been on that boat. Survivors estimate that between 110-151 people had been stabbed and thrown overboard during the journey. The Italian police has arrested five men accused of murder.
On 16.07.2014, following reports of survivors, about 60 boat-people drowned 30 sea miles off the Libyan coast. A cargo vessel rescued 62 refugees from the sinking boat. The crew-members of the cargo vessel talked to the survivors and ensured that the shipwreck became publicly communicated. However, the report reached the news only 24 hours later.
In mid-July 2014 an Egyptian fishing vessel sank off the Egyptian coast near the city of Metoubes in the administrative district of Kafr El-Sheikh with 56 Egyptians on board who wanted to reach Italy. Two dead were retrieved.
On 20.07.2014 the IOM reports of two shipwrecks: A boat sank off the Libyan coast on the 19. or 20.07.2014 with 60 refugees on board, and 240 Eritreans are missing since 19./20.07.2014 due to testimonies of survivors.
On 21.07.2014 about 180 refugees drowned when their boat sank. There were 61 survivors who were taken on-board by the Italian navy. The estimate of deaths were adjusted from 20 to 30 and finally to 180.
Since mid-July a vessel with 350 Syrian, Eritrean and Somali refugees arrived in the harbour of Lampedusa. Amongst them were 110 women and 30 small children. On the 18th of July there were already seven refugee-boats that had reached Lampedusa despite Mare-Nostrum-controls so that 1.278 boat-people are held on the small island.