Migrants or refugees in a boat. One of a few photographs taken by the crew of the OOC Cougar (rescue ship) as the migrants’ boat capsized upon approaching the ship that was attempting to rescue it.
  One of a few photographs taken by the crew of the OOC Cougar (rescue ship) as the migrants’ boat capsized upon approaching the ship that was attempting to rescue it. Photo credit: OOC Opielok Offshore Carrier.

Death by Rescue Report

1 May, 2016

Please see this excellent report by “Death by Rescue”:

“The week commencing 12 April 2015 saw what is believed to be the largest loss of life at sea in the recent history of the Mediterranean. On 12 April, 400 people died when an overcrowded boat capsized due to its passengers’ excitement at the sight of platform supply vessels approaching to rescue them. Less than a week later, on 18 April, a similar incident took an even greater toll in human lives, leading the deadliest single shipwreck recorded by the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Mediterranean.   Over 800 people are believed to have died when a migrants’ vessel sank after a mis-manoeuvre led it to collide with a cargo ship that had approached to rescue its passengers. More than 1,200 lives were thus lost in a single week. As Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) commented at the time, these figures eerily resemble those of a war zone.


Beyond the huge death toll, what is most striking about these events is that they were not the result of the reluctance to carry out rescue operations, which has been identified as a structural cause of migrants’ deaths in the Mediterranean Sea.   In these two cases, the actual loss of life has occurred during and partly through the rescue operation itself. The detailed reconstruction of these two successive tragedies provided in this report shows, however, that in all likelihood the merchant vessels involved complied with their legal obligations and did everything they possibly could to rescue the passengers in distress. While it could appear that only the ruthless smugglers who overcrowded the unseaworthy boats to the point of collapse are to blame, the report focuses on the deeper responsibilities of EU agencies and policy makers. 

Frontex operational planning of the Triton operation thus deliberately disregarded not only the external criticism of human rights advocates, but also its own internal assessment predicting increased deaths at sea.” – “Death by Rescue” Report, at: http://deathbyrescue.org/

The report was produced by Forensic Oceanography (Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani), part of the Forensic Architecture agency (Directed by Eyal Weizamn) at Goldsmiths (University of London). The research for the report has been conducted in the framework of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-supported “Precarious Trajectories” research project (Principal Investigator: Simon Parker), and with the support of the WatchTheMed platform.

The report confirms with new evidence that Frontex in particular was aware that ending Mare Nostrum would lead to more deaths at sea but that the aim of deterrence took precedence over the risk to migrants lives. The gap in SAR capability left by the EU’s policy of non-assistance lead ill-fit merchant ships barring the burden for rescue at sea and to repeated cases of death by rescue.

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