Council of Europe slams Spain’s navy for not saving Libyan refugees

Spanish frigate Méndez Núñez said to have ignored distress call

Boat was carrying 72 people fleeing Gaddafi regime, only nine of whom survived

The Spanish frigate Méndez Núñez. / J. C. FERRERA MARTÍNEZ  (MINISTERIO DE DEFENSA)

Spain “failed to act in accordance with [its] search and rescue obligations” last March when it ignored a call to help a boat filled with 72 refugees fleeing Libya during the uprising against the Gaddafi regime, a report released on Thursday by the Council of Europe (CE) concludes.

The 24-page document prepared by the CE’s Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons focuses on an event in which no NATO-member ships answered a distress call to help the fleeing refugees. Only nine people survived.

The Spanish frigate Méndez Núñez was 11 nautical miles from the boat when a distress call was made by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC).

“Given the Méndez Núñez’s distance from the boat, it seems that it could have reached the boat in distress in less than two hours. It remains unclear why NATO, or the Méndez Núñez itself, failed to provide this information to the Rome MRCC following the launch of the distress alert. What is clear is that no attempt was made by the Spanish vessel to approach the boat,” reads the report.

Despite the findings, a Defense Ministry spokesman said the Méndez Núñez “received no news from anyone that there was a boat in need near its periphery, and if it had, it would have gone to its rescue.”

The boat had left Tripoli on March 26, 2011 carrying 50 men and 20 women, along with two babies. Fifteen days later, only nine survivors were found.

At least 1,500 people are known to have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean last year, the CE committee says.

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