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Death by Rescue
Institute of Contemporary Arts
Central Mediterranean Sea, 12 & 18 April 2015
(Investigation 2016)

The report ‘Death by Rescue’ focuses on two shipwrecks that occurred on the 12 and 18 April 2015. Both took place at the moment of attempted rescue by commercial ships, and led to the loss of more than 1200 lives combined. Starting from the reconstruction of these cases, but mobilising as well a forensics of policies, Forensic Oceanography demonstrates how the EU’s broader policies of non-assistance for migrant boats in distress at sea, created the conditions that made these shipwrecks inevitable.

The video presented here reconstructs the political process and operational planning that unfolded over 2014, and that led to the ending of the Italian Mare Nostrum operation which had offered proactive rescue at sea. By replacing it with the more limited and security oriented Triton operation led by Frontex, the EU’s border agency, EU member states and agencies sought to use the increased risk for migrants generated by this operational retreat as a deterrent to those planning crossings. While this failed to stem the numbers attempting crossings, it shifted onto merchant ships travelling through the area the burden of carrying out rescue operations they were not fit or trained to undertake. This policy of retreat and partial privatisation of rescue is what led to the April catastrophes.

Project Team: Charles Heller, Lorenzo Pezzani, Richard Limeburner, Sabine Llewellyn, Samaneh Moafi, Rossana Padeletti, Laure Vermeersch
Produced within the ESRC funded Precarious Trajectories research project.