U.S. Navy Allowed Migrant Boat To Sink, Killing Dozens, Survivors Say

Sub-Saharan African migrants set sail for Italy from Libya.
David Ramos / Getty Images

The survivors of a boat that capsized during an expedition to transport migrants from Libya to Europe over the summer have come forward with a shocking claim. They charge that the captain steering the U.S. Navy ship that ultimately saved their lives had actually refused to respond to calls for help — until they were nearly ready to perish.

Newsweek reports that on June 12 a group — alleged to have been comprised of 117 people — found themselves in dire straits as waves from the rough Mediterranean Sea continued to heap into their little dinghy. Before long, they were being weighed down into the water, forcing dozens of the mostly Sub-Saharan Africans into the ocean to vie for themselves. For a short while, there had been some hope among the group that they would be saved, seeing how there was a huge vessel flying an American flag within distance. But according to those who’ve lived to recount the experience, their waves and shouts for help went unheeded, with the ship even shifting directions before eventually returning to extend a helping hand.

“We clearly saw the same American ship that had ignored us approaching,” an Italian newspaper, La Republica, quotes one survivor as stating. That individual has gone so far as to claim that he can recall the USNS Trenton crew responding that “it was not their job,” when asked why they hadn’t intervened earlier.

Within days of the tragedy taking place, the U.S. Naval Forces of Europe and Africa had gone about spreading reports of the heroic mission its USNS Trenton was responsible for. In the caption of a collage of photos posted to Twitter, the force acknowledged that the Trenton had fulfilled an obligation under international law, and applauded its crew for providing food, water, and medical care before transferring the survivors over to the Italian Coast Guard.

At the time it was reported that a dozen dead bodies had been recovered in addition to the more than 40 lives saved. The official reports confirm that 42 were rescued. According to the migrants, however, there were many more than 12 dead. They place the lives lost at 76, and have since been convening with investigators from Sicily. Said investigators are looking into their claims of negligence against the Navy.

Spokesman for the U.S. 6th Fleet, Commander Kyle Raines, says that officials are “aware of the reports that an Italian official is looking into USNS Trenton’s rescue of people in distress at sea.” He maintains, however, that to his knowledge the boat had already capsized when the Trenton crew first noticed there was a problem.

The Italian prosecutor — Fabio D’Anna — has, however, come into possession of a tape believed to have been recorded on the Trenton during a similar emergency that took place just two days prior. In the recording, an American voice can be heard saying “I have other tasking which I’m following… We are unable to assist in this matter.”

The fact that the Leone Hermes vessel had to rush over and take the mission over, according to the Guardian, has raised questions about the U.S. Navy’s credibility on the matter.