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Navy disputes survivors’ claim USNS Trenton was slow to respond to migrants in distress

A man rescued at sea is lifted on a stretcher onto the USNS Trenton, in the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.

U.S. NAVY

By SCOTT WYLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 11, 2018

NAPLES, Italy — Some of the 42 migrants rescued in June by the USNS Trenton in the Mediterranean Sea say 76 people died because the vessel was slow to respond, but the Navy insists it acted as swiftly as possible.

Prosecutors in Sicily are reviewing a video that the Italian newspaper La Repubblica produced last month in which six survivors say the Trenton appeared to ignore the distressed dinghy and did not help until after it sank, according to news reports.

They contend that if the Trenton had acted sooner, more lives could have been saved, the Guardian reported.

Navy officials say the Trenton rescued the migrants as soon as sailors spotted them in trouble.

“The Trenton would not have ignored people in the water in distress,” said Cmdr. Kyle Raines, 6th Fleet spokesman. “They conform to all international laws and customs to render assistance at sea.”

It’s possible the imperiled migrants saw the Trenton before the Trenton’s watch officer saw them, Raines said. The sea was rough enough that day to impede the view from the ship’s deck at a certain distance, he said.

The dinghy traveled from Libya carrying 117 migrants, most of them from sub-Saharan Africa. The small boat started filling with water and then sank on the morning of June 12.

Italian authorities have not opened a formal investigation but will talk to survivors to better understand what happened, Italian prosecutor Fabio D’Anna told the Guardian.

In the video, survivors say they saw the Trenton when their boat was still afloat and tried to get its attention, but it sailed away and didn’t return to rescue them until a half an hour after the boat sank, the Guardian reported.

“We saw that ship, it was not far away,’’ one survivor said. “We saw the American flag. If they had rescued us when we were all still onboard, 76 people would not have died.”

Another survivor said they tried to “reach” the Trenton for an hour, suggesting they made distress calls that went unanswered.

But Raines said he has seen no evidence to indicate anyone radioed calls for help. The Trenton’s officers could only act on what they saw, he added.

The Trenton launched two inflatable boats and a fast rescue boat to recover the migrants, who were brought on board the vessel and given food and water, Raines said.

“This was a tragic experience for the migrants,” Raines said. “The Trenton did everything it could upon locating them in distress to help save as many people as possible.”

Wyland.scott@stripes.com
Twitter: @wylandstripes

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