Mediterranean Sea, a chronicle of humanitarian action

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Luca Marco Comellini
Maurizio Turco

Mediterranean Sea, a chronicle of humanitarian action

On 10 November 2013, the Commander of the Italian Navy ship “Aliseo” recounted the phases in the capture of 16 presumed human traffickers and the sinking of their ship due to the bad weather conditions. This capture, after only a few weeks since the start of the military operation “Mare Nostrum” (“Our Sea”) to control immigration flows in the Mediterranean Sea, was an immediate media success. A demonstration of humanity and efficiency, useful to then Prime Minister Letta who was in Malta at the time exactly to follow the immigration operation closely.

On March 25th, at a press conference in the House of Representatives, we showed a short film on those events. The video tells the story of a spectacular “chase” where the safety of human lives at sea was subordinated to the achievement of the propagandistic purpose: the capture of the alleged traffickers.

During peacetime, the only possibility for the armed forces to use warlike violence lies in the Rules of Engagement (ROE). It does not emerge from the video what “threshold condition” had been reached to authorize the use of force to guarantee the life and safety of the Navy personnel and the protection of the sovereignty and territoriality of the Navy military ship. The Aliseo Frigate, more powerful and fully armed, had nothing to fear from the "dangerous evasive manoeuvres" of the fishing vessel fleeing towards Libyan or Tunisian territorial waters.

The protection of human life at sea is an imperative legal principle, at the heart of the international law of the sea, which includes the obligation to ensure the safety and humane treatment of persons on board of a vessel suspected of carrying illegal migrants.

We wonder if those principles and rules – clear targets of “Our Fire” – can be trampled upon with impunity for the State.

The video is available at:

Translation: Laura Harth


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