On Tuesday, the Trenton, a Spearhead-class high-speed transport that is part of ongoing 6th Fleet military operations off the coast of Libya, came upon a migrant boat in distress and disintegrating. People were in the water. Several corpses were floating nearby. The Trenton called for help and, along with the German non-governmental organization Sea Watch whose ship was patrolling nearby, the American crew carried out the rescue of 40 African migrants and observed what appeared to be 12 people in the water who had died. The living are all on the American ship. The anonymous dead were left to the mercy of the elements.
A spokesperson for the U.S. 6th Fleet says that the rescue boats deployed apparently could not find the bodies that had been seen at first, but if they had, the ship would have had enough refrigerated space to store them.
“On June 12, 2018 USNS Trenton, in accordance with its obligations under international law, rendered assistance to mariners in distress that it encountered while conducting routine operations in the Mediterranean Sea,” the Sixth Fleet said in an earlier statement. “Forty people have been recovered and are being provided food, water, and medical care on board Trenton. U.S. authorities are coordinating with our international partners to determine their ultimate disposition.”
…On Wednesday, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini made it very clear that Italy’s ports would remain closed to all but Italian-flagged ships if they carry rescued migrants.
The political wrangling puts the Trenton in a particularly problematic situation. The German-flagged NGO that helped with the rescue is worried that if it agrees to take the migrants off the Americans’ hands, it could end up in a standoff like the Aquarius.
…On Thursday, the Trenton got tired of waiting for the Italian Coast Guard central command to tell it what to do with the survivors and it left the area. The fate of the 40 survivors on board remains undetermined.
This week Spain is seen as a savior for taking in the people aboard the Aquarius, but only a year ago it was condemned because it used armed force to keep migrants off its shores. And Italy, which has taken in far more African migrants than any other European country, is now seen as the bad guy for saying, “No more.”
But none of that political posturing helps the human beings afloat on the Mediterranean. Some will make it to safety in Europe. Some will be returned to Africa. Many will die, pawns sacrificed in a global game.