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PACE finds a ‘catalogue of failures’ that led to deaths of 63 people fleeing Libyan conflict by sea

Strasbourg, 24.04.2012 – A failure to react to distress calls and a “vacuum of responsibility” for search and rescue are among a “catalogue of failures” which led to the deaths of 63 people fleeing the conflict in Libya by sea during a tragic 15-day voyage in March 2011, according to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

Backing a report by Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), the Assembly said in a resolution that search and rescue authorities, NATO, the flag states of naval vessels in the area, the Libyan authorities and reckless smugglers were among those who shared responsibility. NATO in particular “failed to react to distress calls” in a military zone under its control, the parliamentarians said.

The boat, which left Tripoli with 72 people on board a week after the beginning of international air strikes on Libya, washed up on the Libyan coast 15 days later with only nine people still alive – even though distress messages giving its last known position were regularly broadcast to all ships in the area.

The Assembly said it found “credible” the testimonies of the survivors, who said that a military helicopter dropped water and biscuits to them and indicated it would return, but – according to the survivors’ testimonies – it never did. 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 carrying out a rescue.

Concluding that “many opportunities of saving the lives of the persons on board were lost,” the Assembly demanded that NATO conduct an inquiry into the incident and provide comprehensive answers to outstanding questions. National parliaments of the states concerned should also carry out inquiries. It also called on the European Parliament to seek further information, including satellite imagery.