Friday 5 August 2011
Italian coast guards rescued a boat carrying more than 300 people on Thursday that had been drifting off the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa for several hours.
According to Italian media reports, NATO air and naval units had been aware of the boat but had failed to come to its aid.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Friday that dozens of African migrants appeared to have died of dehydration and hardship on the boat and their bodies thrown overboard, based on accounts from survivors.
“Regarding the controversy over the alleged failure to rescue boats fleeing Libya with illegal immigrants on board, Foreign Minister (Franco) Frattini has asked the Italian representative to NATO to seek a formal investigation into what happened,” the ministry said in a statement.
It added that Italy would ask for a discussion within the alliance about whether NATO’s mandate in Libya should be adapted to include the protection and rescue of migrant boats.
The IOM said the 20 meter vessel had left from near Tripoli on Saturday, vastly overcrowded, and lacking water and food. It is the latest in a wave of arrivals since the western alliance began a military campaign to oust Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi.
Hundreds of people have died or drowned attempting the dangerous crossing from North Africa to Lampedusa, a tiny island off the southern coast of Sicily, as fighting in Libya has brought down previously strict border controls.
Earlier this week Italian coast guards found the bodies of 25 men on another boat crammed with African migrants. The men had apparently died of asphyxiation
In May, NATO denied a report that alliance units failed to help a drifting boat carrying African migrants from Libya that ran into trouble and led to the death of 62 people from thirst and hunger.