One man out of 55 survives on lost boat

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

No one came to Libyan migrants' aid during 15 days in busy shipping channel

Abbas Settou is alive “by the grace of God”, he says. Recovering in a Tunisian hospital this weekend, it is feared he is the sole survivor of 55 men and women who set off in an inflatable boat from Libya last month hoping to reach Italy.

His fellow passengers drowned or died slowly and painfully from hunger, thirst, and exhaustion after their boat ruptured, capsized, and drifted for 15 days unseen through one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. "We threw their bodies overboard," he said. They included three members of his family.

The rescued man, who says he drank seawater to survive, was seen clinging to a jerrycan and the remains of the stricken inflatable by fishermen off the Tunisian coast. They alerted the coastguard.

According to the Eritrean's account, 55 people boarded the boat in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and reached the Italian coast approximately 24 hours later. High winds prevented them landing and claiming asylum. The boat was forced back out to sea where the hull ruptured and the engine failed.

Unable to call for help because the satellite phone they carried was broken, they quickly became disorientated as their raft drifted further out to sea. Without fresh water, his fellow passengers, from Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia, began dying of exposure and dehydration. Their efforts to signal to boats passing in the distance seemingly failed.

Their deaths will add to the 170 the UN High Commission for Refugees estimates have been declared dead or lost at sea attempting the journey from Libya to Europe this year. That total is expected to rise as more migrants risk the journey in the crossing season between now and September, when the Med is calmest. Already, 1,300 have reached Italy, but there are concerns the turmoil of the Arab Spring will see more desperate people attempt it. The tragedy has also highlighted concerns that – contrary to international law – maritime authorities and commercial shipping are turning a blind eye to migrants in distress in the Mediterranean. Critics claim migrants in distress are being left to drift or are intercepted and "pushed back" to countries in the southern Med. Scores of ships, including a number of British flagged vessels and highly equipped naval vessels are known to have sailed through the area but none saw or came to the stricken vessels aid.

Alexander Aleinikoff, deputy high commissioner for refugees, said the deaths were a "tragedy" and called for "all vessels at sea to be on heightened alert for migrants and refugees needing rescue in the Mediterranean". The Med, he said "is one of the busiest seaways in the world, and it is imperative that the time-honoured tradition of rescue at sea be upheld".

In a notorious case last year, a boat which left Tripoli with 72 people on board washed up on a Libyan shore two weeks later with just nine survivors. Dubbed the "left-to-die" boat, an official inquiry found that no one went to the boat's aid despite an international distress call being received and its position pinpointed.

The inquiry found that Italian and Maltese authorities failed to launch a search and rescue operation, and Nato military vessels patrolling in the area to enforce the Libyan arms embargo did not respond. Survivors described how a helicopter dropped biscuits and water but did not return, and a large military vessel that came into close contact with them ignored obvious distress signals.

A Dutch parliamentarian, Senator Tineke Strik, who carried out the inquiry into the incident, said too many people were losing their lives in similar circumstances. She said: "Yet again, a dinghy with 55 people on board drifted for 15 days on the Mediterranean. This time, only one person survived. When will this ever end? It is still not safe in Libya and the boats will continue to arrive. Europe knows that. I had hoped my report on the 'left-to-die boat' would serve as an eye-opener to prevent such tragedies happening time and time again. States must never hesitate to undertake immediate action to rescue people, even if they think someone else should be responsible: every minute counts."

She added: "Governments in Europe, and not only in the countries on the southern shores of Europe, must react, and take an equal share in the protection of asylum-seekers arriving from Africa."

In her report, she questioned why help for migrant boats in distress did not arrive. "The Mediterranean is one of the busiest seas in the world, and at the same time one of the best monitored. Yet it is also the sea in which the most people disappeared. We are not talking about somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, but about the Canal of Sicily which is full of ships, with many radars and with satellite imagery available."

Ms Strik said she was still investigating what happened in the "left-to-die" incident and was seeking answers about the role of British Royal Navy ships in the area. She said she had written to the UK Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, a second time trying to find out which British military units were in the vicinity. She has refused to rule out legal action if evidence emerges that states or individuals have ignored their international obligations to go to the aid of a boat in distress.

Boats4People says the Mediterranean is becoming a "mass grave". They warn that the situation is being made worse by the fear that anyone going to the rescue of migrants could face charges of trafficking or aiding and abetting migrants. They also claim ignored rescues are going unpunished and are "trivialised" because only non-Europeans are affected.

Together with experts from London University's Goldsmiths College Forensic Oceanography unit, the organisation this month launched a "civilian watchtower" scheme to monitor the parts of the Mediterranean where migrants were most at risk. "By documenting all the sources of information about incidents at sea with the highest possible degree of precision, the aim is to develop a new tool to increase accountability in the Mediterranean," a spokesman said.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial