LÉ Samuel Beckett (Irish Naval Service) rescues 299 migrants during Operation Triton Search & Rescue Operations at 38 Nautical Miles NE of Tripoli LÉ Samuel Beckett (Irish Naval Service) rescues 299 migrants during Operation Triton Search & Rescue Operations at 38 Nautical Miles NE of Tripoli /Irish Defence Forces/

The differing attitudes towards the hunt for the missing Titanic sub and the drowning of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean last week tells us a lot about how life is valued, argues Terina Hine

The headlines in the papers say it all. Migrants count for nothing compared to billionaires. Almost every newspaper in the UK led with the story of the missing Titanic sub on Wednesday, fearing for the lives of its five passengers. A week ago, not one chose to lead on the fate of 500, possibly 700, migrants and refugees who lost their lives in the Mediterranean.

The Daily Express and Mirror were both ‘Praying for a miracle’; the Daily Mail declared there is just ‘24 hours to save them’; the Daily Star led with ‘The video game submarine’; the Metro with ‘Titanic sub – last photo’; the Independent: ‘They have until 10am before air runs out’; the Sun: ‘I was booked on doomed Titanic sub’; the Times: ‘Previous safety worries over missing Titanic sub’. The Telegraph and Guardian resist the story in their main headline, but it still makes front page news.

The wall-to-wall coverage of the three billionaires who chose the ‘adventure’ of exploring the depths of the Atlantic wreck of the Titanic, in full knowledge of the dangers it involved, is surely worth no more than a mention. Its news value is based more on the irony that those exploring the wreck might possibly be joining the Titanic passengers at their final resting place.

And it’s not just the print media. Every news bulletin on tv and radio repeats the story ad infinitum. But the fact that over 500 women and children drowned last week in the Mediterranean, in what increasingly is being viewed as a preventable disaster, goes almost unmentioned.

Active hindrance

Even before these latest deaths, at least 1,039 people were known to have drowned from Central Mediterranean crossings this year – the most dangerous migration route in the world. The real figure is thought to be far higher as some wrecks never get recorded. The first quarter of this year was the deadliest since 2017. Overall, the International Organisation of Migration believe there have been more than 27,000 missing migrants in the Mediterranean since 2014.

This increased loss of life is the outcome of delays in state-led rescue responses and the active hindrance of NGO-led rescues, regardless that saving lives at sea is a legal obligation. Greek migration policy has become ‘Europe’s shield’ according to Alarm Phone, a network of activists running a hotline for migrant boats in distress. It appears that this shield was responsible for this latest disaster.

Making this deadly journey is the last resort for thousands fleeing wars, persecution and extreme poverty. The majority of people who attempt to cross the Central Mediterranean route leave via Libya, where refugees and migrants face arbitrary detention and torture. European governments are not just abandoning people at sea, they also support forced returns to Libya. In 2021 more than 32,000 people were intercepted and turned back.

The horror stories of those onboard these overcrowded and unsafe vessels must be told. Instead we get a blame game where the disaster is everyone’s fault but the government’s who are responsible for the lack of safe routes, inhumane pushback policies and the refusal to adhere to maritime search and rescue law.

Our media has a responsibility to call this out. Instead it chooses to focus on a no-expense-spared search and rescue mission for the billionaires who spent £200,000 on an ill-fated trip.

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