[PRESS RELEASE] Humanitarian NGOs remain only witness of the bloody catastrophe in the central Mediterranean


Joint statement by SOS MEDITERRANEE, Médecins Sans Frontières and Sea Watch

Over the weekend of 7th-8th June 2024, a new bloody catastrophe was revealed in the central Mediterranean when at least 17 bodies were spotted floating at sea. Twelve of them could be retrieved by civilian Search and Rescue ships Geo Barents and Ocean Viking. The deaths indicate a shipwreck in which an unclear number of people have died. 

This disaster, which took place just days before the one-year anniversary of the Adriana shipwreck near Pylos, Greece, is yet again the result of the devastating and reckless European policies on migration and non-assistance for people taking the Mediterranean route. The outcry from European politicians a year ago and their utter silence now reflects their hypocrisy and inaction to stop deaths at sea.  

The bodies were discovered during a monitoring flight of Sea-Watch. “We spotted even more bodies, which are still at sea”, says Tamino Böhm, who was part of the monitoring team that discovered the dead.  “These deaths were not an unforeseeable accident, but the result of calculated political decisions by the European Union: this is what the European border policy looks like.” 

The fact that the bodies have remained undiscovered for more than a week shows once again how necessary civilian monitoring is in the Mediterranean.  

However, human rights monitoring over the Mediterranean is under threat: the Italian aviation authority ENAC is currently trying to ban Sea-Watch’s monitoring flights. “If this attempt is successful, there will be no more witnesses of such deaths,” says Böhm. 

It was the civilian organisations MSF and SOS Mediterranee who had to recover the bodies from the sea. “Had it not been for humanitarian Search and Rescue vessels and aircraft, this recent tragedy would have likely been one of many invisible shipwrecks in the Mediterranean. We know that more bodies were spotted at sea, which we were not able to recover. We will never know their identity, nor how many people died in this shipwreck,” says Soazic Dupuy, Director of Operations of SOS MEDITERRANEE. “Humanitarian Search and Rescue fills a deadly blind spot in the Mediterranean – the obstruction and criminalisation of our vital work must end.” 

“We have received requests from families reporting they had lost contact with their loved ones who had taken the sea. We call on the Italian authorities to immediately put into action and apply the proper forensic mechanisms to capture and document DNA profiles of people who lost their lives”, says Juan Matias Gil, MSF Search and Rescue representative. “Proper identification of the victims is our duty to help families have answers about the disappearance of their loved ones.”