On June 14th, a small fishing trawler — reportedly bound for Italy from North Africa, and packed with over 700 migrant men, women, and children — capsized and sank in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Greece. Dozens of bodies have been recovered, and hundreds more are missing and presumed dead.
And all this week, the world has been riveted on maritime disaster. But not that one.
Only four days after the migrants aboard the stricken boat met a harrowing end, another vessel vanished in the depths of the North Atlantic. A tiny submersible dubbed the “Titan,” owned and operated by the tourism and exploration firm OceanGate, lost contact with its auxiliary support ship while ferrying passengers and crew to the ocean floor to see the wreckage of the infamous Titanic.
But you probably already knew about that.
Many have already compared the media coverage of the two events, and criticized the glaring disparities. While the plight of the trawler occupied headlines for perhaps a day, outlets have provided round-the-clock coverage of every possible aspect of the Titan’s disappearance.
We received minute-by-minute breakdowns of the search and rescue operations, including analysis on exactly how many hours of oxygen remained for the five stranded occupants of the Titan. We were fed “expert” speculations as to the probable conditions inside the craft and the mentalities of those aboard it, as well as testimonials from people who had been inside of — or perhaps had once considered being inside of — the sub. We learned the apparently vital distinction between a “submarine” and a “submersible.” We even read about OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush’s history of political donations, and about the antics of his stepson during the crisis.
As repulsive as this incongruity is, it is not even the most damning thing about the confluence of these two events.
For days on end, governments and private contractors joined forces to comb through an area of the Atlantic that is twice the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut, desperately racing the clock to find the Titan. Planes and ships scoured the surface, while GPS and sonar were used to troll the depths. Thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars were doubtless spent.
And that is the correct response. When human lives are at stake, no time should be wasted and no expense should be spared. Every potential option ought to be explored. When it is possible — and it is often possible — we ought to do everything within our power to save human lives: every one of them, every time.
Therein lies the true tragedy of the trawler.
No expansive, painstaking search was necessary. Its exact location was known for an entire day. That it was in distress was obvious. Hundreds of human lives hung in the balance. Virtually nothing was done.
The government of Greece initially indicated that the migrants aboard the trawler declined assistance and insisted that they were not in any danger. But substantial evidence contradicts this claim.
Representatives for Alarm Phone, a hotline for “boatpeople in distress,” said that the “boat… reported being in trouble” well before its ultimate demise. Per the BBC, marine traffic data suggests that the trawler was stranded and listing for hours, despite the Greek coastguard’s contention that the fishing boat was on a steady course for the Italian coast, and thus, did not require aid. Several Greek officials have even accused the Greek coastguard of attempting to tow the vessel into Italian waters, thus wiping their hands of the situation entirely.
We may never know what, precisely, unfolded in the waters of the Mediterranean that day, but one thing is clear: multiple European governments were aware of the developing catastrophe, but they decided that it was someone else’s problem. Hundreds of people were left to drown as a result.
And this is not the first time this has happened. Only a few months before, the government of Malta reportedly refused to save a similarly imperiled boat after the captain abandoned it and passengers called for help. In a gross violation of international maritime laws, the Maltese government, rather than collecting the nearly 400 people onboard and bringing them to safety, allegedly ordered merchant ships to supply the craft with sufficient supplies to limp onward to Italy: someone else’s problem.
It is a tale of two tragedies: the Titan and the trawler. But in another sense, it is the tale of a thousand tragedies in a world that has become callous and numb to the mundanity of entirely preventable migrant deaths.
Shame on us.