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Refugees who have just been rescued
Refugees often have a tough trip to LampedusaImage: AP

Adrift at sea

May 9, 2011

NATO has denied allegations made in a report by The Guardian newspaper that it ignored calls for help from a refugee boat in the Mediterranean. After drifting for 16 days at sea, 62 of the boat's 72 passengers died.


NATO has denied claims made in a report by Britain's Guardian newspaper that forces patroling the Mediterranean ignored the plight of a refugee ship in need of rescuing.

The Guardian's article claims that the boat ran into trouble shortly after leaving the Libyan capital Tripoli on March 25. The boat's destination was the Italian island of Lampedusa, where thousands of refugees from Northern Africa have fled in recent months.

By the time the ship washed up on Libyan shores, only 11 of the original 72 passengers on board were still alive. The other passengers, including women and children, had died of thirst or starvation. One of the surviving passengers died shortly after reaching land.

Left to drift?

According to survivor accounts published in the Guardian, a military helicopter found the boat after the alarm was raised with the Italian coastguard. The helicopter lowered biscuits and bottled water into the boat.

Aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle
France says the Charles de Gaulle had no contact with the refugee boatImage: AP

Later, the boat allegedly drifted near the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, but no rescue attempt was carried out.

The Charles de Gaulle was not under NATO command at the time, and the French military denied that the Charles de Gaulle encountered such a vessel.

NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said on Monday that only one NATO vessel was operating at the time. It was an Italian vessel called the Garibaldi, which was much further out to sea than the distressed vessel.

"NATO vessels are fully aware of their responsibilities with regard to international maritime law on safety of lives at sea," Romero said.

NATO airstrikes continue

Meanwhile, NATO airstrikes in Libya targeted weapons depots of Libya's government in the town of Zintan.

NATO forces have been carrying out airstrikes in Libya since March in an effort to bring the ongoing conflict there to an end.

This comes as fighting intensifies between forces loyal to Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi and rebels seeking to topple Gadhafi in the key port city of Misrata.

In Misrata, the Red Cross said it had delivered a shipment of medical supplies and food on Monday, after rebels said the city had only a month's worth of food and water left.

Author: Matt Zuvela (AFP, AP, Reuters)
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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