Italy’s emotional statement for those that have “been ‘cancelled’ by the sea, buried and marked as “nameless” as if they had never existed” from the meeting of the 98th Session of the Legal Committee the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – 2011.
STATEMENT BY ITALY CONCERNING THE SEARCH AND RESCUE
OPERATION IN THE SICILY CHANNEL ON 6 APRIL 2011
On 6 April 2011 at about 1.30 a.m., the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, Malta,
informed the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre of the presence, in its waters, 45 miles from the Italian island of Lampedusa and mid-way between Malta and Italy, of a boat in distress due to flooding, with an alleged 200 people on board. The information had been received via a Mayday call originating from people on board the boat, which had departed from Zuara, a Libyan port.
The situation in the area was sea force 6 and wind of 39 knots from the North West.
Due to the temporary unavailability of Maltese patrol boats, naval SAR assets from
Lampedusa were shipped to the area in order to rescue and assist the persons, described as being stranded and very panic-stricken as a consequence of many days on board. At 4 a.m., after the authorization from the NATO base of Naples to infringe the “No fly zone”, a SAR aircraft was sent to the area.
Other merchant vessels were despatched to the rescue area; at 4.15 a.m., two SAR units reached the distressed boat, a vessel of 13 meters, capable of holding a maximum of 40 people. It had severely listed. On board were men, women and children of different nationalities (from Somalia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Cote d’Ivoire, Chad and Sudan) – approximately 300 persons.
Moreover, due to damage to the engine, the boat was prey to high waves and it was
impossible to manoeuvre it.
In such a situation, the risk of the boat capsizing was considered to be very great;
furthermore it would be difficult to rescue the panic-stricken occupants in order to prevent further listing of the boat while attempting to berth alongside it.
At 5.35 a.m., after various attempts to tranship the occupants, the boat eventually capsized, due to the massive quantity of water on board, and despite the deployment of all possible measures, only 52 survivors were rescued, while over 250 were missing.
Due to their poor health conditions, including advanced hypothermia, the survivors were taken to Lampedusa, and, at 7 a.m., a team of rescuers arrived.
At the same time, a wider search operation was underway and is still ongoing. But, as of today, only 23 bodies have been found.
To these bare facts, let me add a few personal but sad comments, just to better clarify the situation.
This terrible event in the Sicily Channel is the last episode in a very long string of casualties and serious situations, very likely to be repeated with similar results, in many other parts of the world, as a consequence of massive migration which is inevitable and quite impossible to stem, because it originates from people’s desire to achieve minimal standards of living, often denied in their own countries.
At the same time, this kind of “exodus” is destined to create an abyss between humanity, human sentiments and moral obligations on one side, and concrete possibilitie of supplying proper aid on the other.
This gigantic movement of persons and the continuous loss of lives at sea (hypocritically referred to as “missing persons”) are sadly familiar sights in the Mediterranean Cemetery, where for every 100 people safely landing, 5 drown without leaving any trace. Additionally, of the 26,000 people who disembarked during the first three months of the current year on the rock of Lampedusa, between 800 to 1000 died.
It makes nearly 15,000, I repeat 15,000, over the last 10 years: just like a war!
But, worse than this, is the consideration that people drowned without their names ever being known. They have been “cancelled” by the sea, buried and marked as “nameless” as if they had never existed.
Most of them are anonymous; nobody, perhaps, will ever know they have died, deprived of the minimal dignity, such as their name and the unique sign of their individuality. This is a supreme outrage!
Yesterday, watching the TV, I saw survivors happy to be rescued and waving a banner
saying: “Thanks for rescuing us, we just want to live and all we need is a bit of warmth and humanity”.
My apologies, Mr. Chairman, for this lengthy digression but it is necessary to depict a
situation that cannot be confined within national borders and of which the international community, not just the maritime community, has to take due responsibility.
By ironic coincidence, just two days ago, this delegation met the Spanish delegation and the Secretariat to examine the matter and extremely fruitful results were achieved.
Our hope is now that the “Draft Regional Agreement on the procedures for the
disembarkation of persons rescued at sea”, as finalized during the meeting here in IMO, with the personal good offices of the Secretary-General, could be a precursor for further debate among all the Mediterranean States and Regional Institutions, so as eventually to give concreteness to agreed operational measures, aimed at stemming the occurrence of tragedies such as the one just described in the Sicily Channel and all the ones likely to occur tomorrow in any area of the planet.
But the key point is that we must act now without further delay, since many people’s
lives are at stake!
With the 99th Sesson of the USCG: IMO Legal Committee (LEG) set for April 16-20, 2012
The Legal Committee (LEG) current provisional agenda does not include this issue – but with the MS Concordia incident and the 100th aniversary of the RMS Titanic, is should be added. Added February 3, 2012:
IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu, has stated that IMO is the right international body to deal with safety of passenger ships and, in particular, a safety review after the Costa Concordia accident. He has included an additional item on “Passenger Ship Safety” on the agenda of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee, which meets for its 90th session from 16-25 May this year. This will provide an opportunity for IMO Members in the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) to consider any issues arising.