03 August 2011

In the Strait of Sicily at least 5,962 deaths since 1994

The solid sea, by Alberta Torres

Since 1994, in the Strait of Sicily at least 5,962 people have died along the routes that go from Libya (from Zuwarah, Tripoli and Misratah), Tunisia (Sousse, Mahdia and Chebba) and Egypt (in particular the area of Alexandria ) towards the islands of Lampedusa and Pantelleria, Malta and the south-eastern coast of Sicily, but also from Egypt and Turkey towards Calabria. More than half (4,547) are lost at sea. Another 189 young people drowned sailing from the city of Annaba, in Algeria, to Sardinia. The year 2011 is the worst. So far this year, among the dead and missing, at least 1,674 people have disappeared in the Strait of Sicily, 239 deaths per month, 8 per day: a massacre. The data was last updated August 1, 2011. It does not take into account all the ghost shipwrecks, of which we will never know a thing. Since January more people have disappeared than those that died in all of 2008, the first year of rejections, when 1,274 victims were counted, compared to the 36,000 who arrived in Sicily. Not only. Those 1,674 dead in the Strait of Sicily represent 87% of the 1,931 deaths recorded in the first seven months of 2011 around the Mediterranean. It is not just bad weather to cause such a high number of deaths. There’s more to it and you can tell by the fact that one is eight times more likely to die on the Libyan route than on the Tunisian one.

Victims of the Channel of Sicily between 2002 and the first 7 months of 2011
Deaths 2364132064373025561274425201674
In the first seven months of the year in fact, compared to about 25,000 arrivals from Tunisia and just as many from Libya, the deaths documented on the Tunisian route have been 188 while those on the Libyan route were as many as 1,486. It’s like saying that on the Tunisian route 1 in 130 die, while on the Libyan route 1 in 17 die. Eight times higher. And the figure might be even more alarming. Because no one knows the number of the Phantom wrecks of which we know nothing.

Surely, making the journey from Libya more dangerous are the overloaded conditions faced by refugees fleeing the war. And this is the direct responsibility of the Libyan armed forces, who are managing the entire operation. According to numerous testimonies collected directly by those who disembarked, in fact, the Gaddafi regime not only encourages departure for Italy, providing the port of Zuwara, the commercial port of Tripoli and the port of Janzur, a suburb west of the capital. But even when the fishing boats are short of passengers, they take care of the load.

In other words, the regime orders the pro-government militias to carry out raids in the black districts of Tripoli of the cities still under the control of the Colonel, to gather a sufficient number of passengers and fill the boats. Passengers who in these cases are therefore forced to make the voyage to Europe. As proof of the Libyan regime's desire to board as many people as possible for the Italian coasts - in retaliation for the bombing of Libya - is the fact that the crossing in most cases is free. Kindly offered by the regime.

In addition to all this, for several years now and in most cases, the smugglers no longer send their men at the helm. The navigation of the boat is now assigned at random to one of the passengers, often one who has no experience of being at sea. And as for the rescue, the fishermen are less and less willing to offer relief, to avoid the risk of arrest and seizure of their vessels. And the same is true for the NATO warships, but evidently for very different reasons.

All of the census reports of shipwrecks in the Strait of Sicily and off the shores of Sardinia are available in the Italian version of the website.

translated by Camilla Gamba