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The European Union’s Lethal Maritime Frontier
Institute of Contemporary Arts
December 2022
Central Mediterranean Sea, 2011 – ongoing
(Investigations by Forensic Oceanography 2011 – ongoing)

Forensic Oceanography is a project initiated within the framework of Forensic Architecture by Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani, in the wake of the Arab uprisings of 2011. It seeks to critically investigate the militarised border regime imposed by Europe across the Mediterranean Sea, analysing the political, spatial and aesthetic conditions that have led to the death of large numbers of migrants in the region over the last 30 years.

By combining human testimonies with traces left across the digital sensorium of the sea constituted by radars, satellite imagery and vessel tracking systems, Forensic Oceanography has mobilised surveillance means ‘against the grain’ to contest both the violence of borders and the regime of (in)visibility on which it is founded. While the seas have been carved up into a complex jurisdictional space that allows states to extend their sovereign claims through police operations beyond the limits of their territory, but also to retract themselves from obligations, such as rescuing vessels in distress, Forensic Oceanography has sought to locate particular incidents within the legal architecture of the EU’s maritime frontier, so as to determine responsibility for them.

Presented here and in the adjoining room are four investigations undertaken by Forensic Oceanography that each exemplify different phases in the evolving border regime since 2011. They are accompanied by a timeline depicting these phases in relation to the fluctuating patterns of border control and (non-)assistance at sea, expansion and retraction of operations, and their dramatic consequences for the lives of migrants.
The Left-to-die Boat
Central Mediterranean Sea, 27 March 2011

Death by Rescue
Central Mediterranean Sea, 12 & 18 April 2015