The survivors of a migrant ship that sank in the Mediterranean Sea this past June have accused the 6th Fleet’s USNS Trenton of ignoring their distress calls and allowing 76 people to drown.
A dinghy full of migrants that were traveling from Libya to Europe capsized with the Trenton close by on June 12th; survivors say they tried to get the boat’s attention but were ignored. “We saw the American flag, and we tried to reach them, but as we approached, they seemed to avoid us and changed direction,” said a witness. “If they had rescued us when we were all still onboard, 76 people would not have died.”
The cruiser would later return to the scene and rescued 41 people after the boat sank, but the lives of dozens more were lost thanks to the ship’s alleged rebuffing of their calls for assistance. “We clearly saw the same American ship that had ignored us approaching,” said a survivor, who went on to say that when the Americans were asked why they had ignored them at first, the Navy crew said, “because it was not their job.”
Prosecutors from Sicily are now investigating the charges and interviewing the survivors to find out if the allegations are true, reports Newsweek.
For its part, the Navy denies having ignored the distress calls and insisted that they first saw the dinghy after it had already capsized, but acknowledged that they were “aware of the reports that an Italian official is looking into USNS Trenton’s rescue of people in distress at sea.”
Adding fuel to that fire are recordings from a reporter on the Greek merchantman, Leone Hermes, that indicate the Trenton had refused to help a different migrant boat just two days earlier. “I have other tasks which I’m following… We are unable to assist in this matter” was the reported response to the Leone Hermes, who ended up rescuing the migrants themselves.
More than 3,100 migrants died crossing the ocean to Europe last year, and so far this year one in every 18 migrants has drowned making it one of the world’s most dangerous journeys.
While it may just have been a tragic series of misunderstandings, there absolutely must be a full-blown investigation into these allegations. There is no possible excuse for refusing to help and allowing dozens of people to drown simply because they’re not citizens of your country.
Original reporting by David Brennan at Newsweek.
Here’s an Italian-language news story on the incident; some of the interviews are in English.