Launch of ‘Death by Rescue’ Report on anniversary of 18 April shipwreck tragedy


‘The 18th April 2015 marks…the worst peacetime disaster in recent Mediterranean history’



The 18th of April 2016 marks the first anniversary of the tragic sinking of a fishing trawler off the coast of Sicily resulting in the loss of over 800 lives. Only 28 passengers on board the vessel survived. It was the worst peacetime disaster in recent Mediterranean history and the biggest single loss of life in a year that saw 3,735 suspected drownings by those attempting to make the perilous journey to the shores of Europe. However, days earlier on 13 April 2015, more than 400 people were thought to have drowned after another vessel sank some 60 nautical miles from the Libyan coast and 150 survivors were rescued. In just the month of April, shipwrecks cost the lives of over 1,200 refugees in one of the most heavily trafficked sea areas and surrounded by some of the best equipped search and rescue services and air and naval surveillance in the world.

How then was this human catastrophe possible and why do the events of April 2015 mark only the highest point in a rising death toll since the abandonment of the Italian government’s Mare Nostrum operation in October 2014?

The report which is launched on Monday 18 April at the A.M. Qattan Foundation in London (for details and to book a ticket click here) sheds new light on the recent history of national and EU sponsored search and rescue and border control operations since the fatal shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa, Sicily in October 2013 that led to the launch of Mare Nostrum.

18042015_ZOOMIN_B_LP2-01According to the detailed forensic research and witness statements collected by the report’s authors, Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani:

  • the merchant vessels involved did everything they possibly could to rescue the passengers in distress
  • the blame for the tragedies does not lie entirely with the smugglers who overcrowded the boats
  • EU agencies and policy makers bear responsibility for ending the Italian Mare Nostrum operation and replacing it with the much more limited Frontex-led Triton operation
  • European policy makers took this decision in full knowledge of the deadly consequences this policy shift would have, and knowingly created the conditions in which these incidents were bound to occur.

Heller and Pezzani comment:

 “Thanks to newly released documents we can show that the rationale for this retreat of state-operated rescue was to act as a deterrent for migrants and smugglers in the aim of stemming crossings”.

The authors will be joined at the launch of the report by Precarious Trajectories Project Director, Dr Simon Parker from the University of York, the Director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, London University Prof. Eyal Weizman, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, the Director of Statewatch, Tony Bunyan and Matteo De Bellis, Amnesty International. Chaired by Prof. Sue Clayton, Director of the Goldsmiths Screen School.

Book a free ticket through Eventbrite.