The 19 interviews by Goldsmiths researchers into the 'left-to-die-boat' ignored by Nato vessels in the Mediterranean in April 2011 has determined that 72 migrants were ignored by all Nato and non-military entities encountered in the two weeks drifting slowly in the sea, despite a clear distress call.
The migrants' vessel was established to have been within Nato's maritime surveillance area for 15 days, drifting in Libyan territorial waters, while Nato patrolled the area to prevent the flow of arms and mercenaries and prevent attacks.
The area was populated by at least 38 maritime assets as well as many additional aerial assets during the time of the event.
Nato maritime command in Naples and participating states were informed of the presence of a vessel in distress, and the military and naval assets had the detection capability to detect the migrants' vessel during its 14 days of drift back towards the coast of North Africa.
The independent research's geospatial report determined the movements of the boat, using a drift model to simulate the trajectory of the rubber vessel after the boat drifted in high waves for two weeks between 28 March and 10 April, when it landed in Ziltan.
"Left without food or water, the migrants began drinking sea-water as well as their own urine mixed with toothpaste. According to Dan Haile Gebre, after 2-3 days of this weather people started to die. According to Abu Kurke, the number of people dying increased daily. First two, then four, then five or six people died everyday."
The most astounding revelation is that after five to six days drifting the bad weather, a military vessel approached the boat at a very close distance of 10 metres, but failed to save the migrants.
"We are watching them, they are watching us. We are showing them the dead bodies. We drank water from the sea to show them we were thirsty. The people on the boat took pictures, nothing else," Dan Haile Gebre, a survivor, said.
The survivor's testimonies provide indications that this was the Borsini ship of the Italian Fleet.
While both Italian and Maltese authorities were informed of the boat's distress, the researchers' drift model determines it is probably the vessel entered the Maltese search and rescue zone for at least part of one day, drifting in an area located 82 nautical miles from Lampedusa and 149 nautical miles from the Island of Malta: right within the zone of conflicting responsibility between Italy and Malta.
The report states that it appears that fishermen failed to assist the migrants in the open sea and that Italy and Malta, although informed of the distress of the migrants, did not intervene to rescue them or assure that their rescue was being coordinated.
The "left-to-die boat" remained adrift for 14 days within a non-operational Libyan SAR zone, but this same area was however populated by an intensified amount of Nato aerial and maritime assets.
At least 38 naval assets had been in operation in the waters off the coast of Libya for at least some time between 27 March and 10 April.
Malta's Armed Forces' involvement was ruled out, because the helicopters at their disposal, although being used in SAR operations, are not able to travel such long distances.
Most of the migrants interviewed testified to the active role that former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi's troops played not only in organising and managing the crossing but also in often forcing Sub-Saharan migrants to leave.
The great majority among them did not have to pay for the trip, or paid just a small amount, and were searched by soldiers before embarking. This prevented them from carrying any water or food, cellular phones, or money.
Almost all migrants interviewed reported having crossed several vessels at sea, ranging from the boats of other migrants, fishermen, NATO ships, cruise ships, and the coast guard patrols of Malta and Italy.
In one of the interviews, Dan Haile Gebre said that while he worked and earned a decent living as a mechanic in a garage located in Tripoli, the Libyan conflict made life increasingly perilous for for Sub-Saharan migrants in particular. "The people are divided in two, pro Gaddafi and pro Benghazi groups. So anybody will ask you asked: who do you support? If you say 'rebels' the person you are speaking to might be pro Gaddafi, and if you say with 'Gaddafi' he might be with the rebels.
"They started killing black people. They come to our homes and steal everything you have. They stole everything from my workshop because of the green flag, mandatory if you want to find work under the Gaddafi regime. We were afraid. There was a lot of things: if you want to take a taxi, the driver will ask you the same question. In a bakery: buying bread was not allowed for Africans."
The distress call to Father Moses Zerai, in Rome, was relayed to the Italian rescue coordination centre on 27 March 2011.
A helicopter was scrambled into action soon enough, its approach described by survivor Dan Haile Gebre as follows: "It circled around us 4-5 times and came closer. It was making a lot of wind, and we almost lost our balance."
Witnesses stated that it bore the English writing "ARMY".
Abu Kurke Kebato adds: "The helicopter came very close to us down, we showed him our babies, we showed them we finished oil, we tell them 'Please help us'". He continues: "I think I saw them take our picture. I think I saw a photo camera or something like that."
This description is consistent with protocols for vessel identification missions in the frame of Nato's monitoring of the embargo over Libya during Operation Unified Protector.
Despite the fact that the helicopter clearly came very close, approximately 10 metres according to Abu Kurke Kebato, and that the migrants clearly communicated signals of distress, the helicopter left without providing any assistance. Following that encounter, the migrants believed they would be soon rescued.
Once they resumed movement, the migrants tried to approach some fishermen whose boats they noticed around them to ask for help. Dan Haile Gebre believes that they were from Tunisia and Malta.
When the fishermen saw the migrants' boat arriving though, they drew in their nets and sailed away swiftly, almost making the small migrants' vessel capsize.
The researchers said that during this time, the migrants navigated for very short stretches in random directions, i.e. without following the direction of Lampedusa but rather moving from one boat to the other. "We can therefore estimate that during this time they did not move considerably from the previously established GPS position."
Second helicopter encounter
According to Dan Haile Gebre, this encounter with the fishermen was immediately followed by the re-appearance of what appeared to be the same helicopter that had visited the vessel previously. This time, the military on-board lowered down eight bottles of water and small packets biscuits, both of which had Italian writing on them, and left again.
After the helicopter departed for a second time, the migrants encountered one more Tunisian fishing boat, which gave them the direction of Lampedusa in Arabic, pointing to the island's direction the fisherman said "four hours".