Iran threatens to shut down the Strait of Gibraltar, effectively closing a world shipping lane


Important Takeaways:

  • Chemical tanker ‘is hit by drone from Iran off the coast of India – as Tehran threatens to close Strait of Gibraltar and Mediterranean Sea unless Israel stops bombing Gaza
  • The US has accused Iran of being behind a drone attack on a chemical tanker in the Indian Ocean.
  • The attack on the Chem Pluto on Saturday resulted in a fire, though no casualties were reported.
  • Though Iran has not commented on the attack, the US military said the ‘one-way attack’ was delivered by a ‘drone fired from Iran.’
  • It is understood to be the first time the US has accused Iran of targeting a ship directly. It is also believed to be the furthest attack undertaken by Iran from its own soil.
  • The accusations come as Iran has threatened to close off the Strait of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea if Israel and its allies continue to commit ‘crimes’ in Gaza.
  • Iran, which has backed Hamas, accused the US and other western states of propping up Israel’s alleged war crimes committed during its ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, where more than 20,000 people have died since October 7.
  • ‘They shall soon await the closure of the Mediterranean Sea, (the Strait of) Gibraltar and other waterways,’ Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, a senior member of the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Corps, said on Saturday.
  • While Iran has no direct access to the Mediterranean itself and it was not clear how the Guards could attempt to close it off, Iran-backed proxies in Lebanon and Syria have access to these waterways, which carry around a fifth of the world’s maritime trade.

Read the original article by clicking here.

Naming the nameless: experts struggle to identify drowned migrants

Wooden crosses for an unmarked refugee grave

By Isla Binnie and Michele Kambas

ROME/ATHENS (Reuters) – Mose tapped the screen of his mobile phone to zoom in on a photograph of his wife, Yordanos, pointing to a mole under her eyebrow.

“She has a recognizable mark here,” the 26-year-old Eritrean said in a park in Rome; after fleeing compulsory military service back home, Mose now lives in an Italian reception center for migrants.

He has not seen Yordanos since May 26 when they left Libya, packed by people smugglers on to two separate boats bound for Italy. He was rescued, but her boat sank in the Mediterranean.

Helping people like Mose find out their loved ones’ fate is becoming ever more pressing as Europe’s migrant crisis drags on in its third year and the death toll rises.

Teams of forensic scientists in Italy and Greece are painstakingly trying to identify the victims of drowning found at sea, washed up on shores or recovered from wrecks.

However, there is no common practice to collect information about these deaths between states or even sometimes within the same country, and a plan by the Dutch-based International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) to start tracing lost migrants is still awaiting funding.

Kathryne Bomberger, director general of the ICMP, said the problem was too big to be left solely to front-line countries such as Italy and Greece.

“This is a complex, international problem,” she said, as the task of identification and notification involves tracking down relatives who may be in their home countries, in refugee camps, or building new lives in the likes of Germany or Sweden.

“We are ready to go, we have the necessary database systems, we have an agreement with Italy, we have done our homework. We just need the financial support.”

The ICMP and International Organization for Migration (IOM) are calling for a strategy to process the data, and a system for repatriating migrants’ remains.


Mose, who withheld his surname for fear of reprisals from Eritrean authorities, clings to the hope that Yordanos was rescued and that she could be recognised from the photograph.

If she did not survive, and her body was recovered, her remains are likely to have been buried in one of hundreds of numbered graves in Sicily or the southwestern Calabria region for migrants who have drowned.

Both in Italy and Greece, which migrants have also tried to reach on a shorter but still dangerous sea crossing from Turkey, the forensic experts are trying to replace the numbers with names.

Sometimes they succeed, despite the practical and financial problems, as in the case of a baby boy found floating near the Greek island of Samos in January.

The child, no more than six months old, had been lost in a shipwreck on Oct. 29, 2015 when 19 migrants drowned. For over two months, his body drifted more than 150 km (95 miles) north until it was recovered from the water.

In the end, police identified the little boy from a DNA sample given by his Syrian father, who was among 139 people rescued when the boat sank in the Aegean off the island of Kalymnos.

“It is the least we can do for these people, under very difficult circumstances,” said Penelope Miniati, director of the Greek police’s Forensic Sciences Division.

For some, the tragedies recall Greece’s own history of migration, including in the 1950s and ’60s when many escaped poverty for a new life in countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia, breaking up families who sometimes lost contact with each other.

“We are Greeks, we also migrated and some people were lost in the journey … and each time people wondered what had happened to them,” said Miniati.


More than three quarters of the 4,027 migrant and refugee deaths worldwide in 2016 so far happened in the Mediterranean, according to the IOM.

Most died between Libya and Italy. Hundreds also drowned on the Turkey-Greece route, although arrivals have fallen sharply since a deal between the European Union and Ankara on curbing the flow in March.

Many shipwreck victims are never recovered, but about 1,500 have been brought to Italy since 2013. So far, just over 200 have been identified.

In a “policy vacuum” the action in Italy and Greece has been driven by “improvisation”, the IOM said in June in a joint report with City University London and the University of York.

The report praised a deal that Italy’s special commissioner for missing persons struck with a university laboratory, which provides free forensic work, and the interior ministry, to adopt a protocol to identify victims and inform relatives.

The commissioner records details of corpses and sends notices through embassies and humanitarian organizations asking survivors for photographs of the missing, and personal effects such as toothbrushes that could harbor DNA.

In Athens, Miniati’s division has a database with information on 647 people who need identifying, about 80 percent of them the nameless dead of the migrant crisis.

People who drown and stay trapped underwater for months are often unrecognizable, so accounts of scars, tattoos and dental cavities help. Some people come to Italy to look for missing relatives in the commissioner’s files and some take DNA tests.


Deputy Italian Commissioner Agata Iadicicco said a shared international database would make it easier to reach migrants’ home countries and diasporas across Europe. “We need money to standardize this model and to involve all the migrant communities that mainly live in northern Europe,” she said.

With no sign of a let-up in the perilous voyages from North Africa, Italy feels that fellow EU countries should pull their weight more in handling the crisis.

The issue of graves for the victims has become caught up in the ill-feeling. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said he sent the navy to raise a ship that sank last year and bury the more than 450 people found in the wreck to “tell Europe which values really count”.

For Mose, whose young son is still in Eritrea, even being sure Yordanos had died would be some comfort. “If I find her body, I can find some serenity,” he said. “If my son asks whether his mother is, at least I can say where she is buried.”

(editing by David Stamp)

Bodies found off coast of Libya as migrant toll climbs: IOM

Migrants await rescue in dinghy

GENEVA (Reuters) – The bodies of 120 migrants believed to have been trying to reach Italy by boat from Libya have been found off the Libyan coast over the past 10 days, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday.

“We are getting this information from Libyan authorities that we are collaborating with,” said IOM spokesman Joel Millman. The bodies had been discovered near Sabratha and had not come from previously known shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.

Mainly African migrants are taking often unseaworthy boats from Libya to Italy, gateway to Europe. Nearly 8,000 were rescued at sea between Friday to Monday on that central Mediterranean route, Millman told a briefing.

It is a longer and more perilous journey than that from Turkey to Greece, largely shut down since a deal was struck between the European Union and Turkey in March, although 174 migrants did make it by sea to Greece over the weekend, IOM said.

More than 257,000 migrants and refugees have already entered Europe by sea this year through July 27, and for the third straight year, at least 3,000 others have died, the agency said.

A total of 4,027 migrants or refugees have perished worldwide so far this year, three-quarters of them in the Mediterranean, Millman said.

The figures represents a 35 percent increase on the global toll during the first seven months of 2015, he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Nearly 3,000 dead in Mediterranean already this year: IOM

Migrants waiting for rescue

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Nearly 3,000 migrants and refugees have perished in the Mediterranean Sea already this year while almost 250,000 have reached Europe, the International Organization for Migration said on Friday.

The estimated death toll could put 2016 on track to be the deadliest year of the migration crisis. Last year the same landmark was only reached in October, by which time nearly one million people had crossed into Europe.

“This is the earliest that we have seen the 3,000 (deaths) mark, this occurred in September of 2014 and October of 2015,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a briefing. “So for this to be happening even before the end of July is quite alarming.”

Three out of four victims this year died while trying to reach Italy from North Africa, mostly Libya, a longer and more dangerous route. The others drowned between Turkey and Greece before that flow dried up with the March deal on migrants between Turkey and the European Union.

Nearly 2,500 fatalities have occurred since late March, with about 20 migrants dying each day along the route from Libya to Italy, Millman said. Most are from West Africa and the Horn of Africa, although they may include people from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Morocco.

“The (Libyan) coast guard has had some luck turning back voyages from Libya. We’ve heard in the last six weeks a number of cases where they have been able to turn boats back.

“They (have also been) recovering bodies at an alarming rate,” Millman said.

Some 84,052 migrants and refugees have arrived in Italy so far this year, almost exactly the same number as in the same period a year before, he said.

That indicated departures from Libya were at “maximum capacity” due to a limited number of boats deemed seaworthy.

But there is “a very robust market of used fishing vessels and things coming from Tunisia and Egypt that are finding their way to brokers in Tripoli,” Millman said. “And you can actually go to shipyards where people are trying to repair boats as fast as they can to get more migrants on the sea.”

Migrants in Libya are often held in detention centers, some run by criminal gangs and militias, he said. IOM officials seek access to detainees and authorization for their repatriation.

“There’s no question that in some of this range of detention (centers) there are people in league with smugglers who are moving people toward the smugglers,” Millman said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Record number of Migrants die trying to cross Mediterranean last six months

People stand next to the dead body of a migrant on the beach of Siculiana, in Western Sicily, Italy,

By Lin Taylor

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Nearly 2,900 migrants have died trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, making the first six months of 2016 the deadliest on record, according to figures published Friday by an international migration group.

Between the months of January and June, there were 2,899 recorded deaths at sea, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported, around a 50 percent increase in the number of deaths when compared with the same period in 2015, when 1,838 migrants went missing or drowned at sea. In 2014, there were 743 deaths at sea by mid-year.

“We’ve had almost 3,000 people dead which is really alarming,” said Joel Millman, spokesman for the IOM, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Europe’s done a remarkable job, they’ve saved thousands of lives this year alone. But almost 3,000 people dead means they’re not doing everything that needs to be done.”

Millman said he was not expecting migrant arrivals to decrease as insecurity in Libya, Syria and other war-torn countries is not likely to improve in the coming months.

In first six months of this year, 225,665 migrants arrived in Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Spain by sea, with the central Mediterranean route to Italy claiming the most lives, accounting for nearly 2,500 deaths. This time last year, the number of arrivals by sea was just over 146,000, the IOM said.

On Thursday, 10 women died in a sinking rubber boat off the coast of Libya and an Italian ship rescued hundreds of other migrants, the Italian coastguard said.

The latest deaths came as Italy raised the wreck of a fishing boat that sank in April last year. The disaster is feared to have killed up to 800 people, making it one of the deadliest shipwrecks in decades of seaborne migration from North Africa towards Europe.

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, global land rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, women’s rights, and climate change. Visit to see more stories)

U.S. Navy boosts presence in Mediterranean

he US Navy aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman transits the Suez Canal, Egypt towards the Mediterranean Sea

By Andrea Shalal

ABOARD USS HARRY S. TRUMAN (Reuters) – The U.S. military will have two aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean Sea this month ahead of a NATO summit in Warsaw, as Washington seeks to balance Russia’s military activities and accelerate its fight against Islamic State militants.

The USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier will hand off to the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower when it arrives en route to the Gulf, allowing the Truman to head back to the United States after an extended eight-month deployment, Navy officials on board the Truman said.

The move coincides with NATO military exercises across eastern Europe and Turkey which are likely to raise tensions with Russia. U.S. officials say Russia is operating warships and submarines in the Mediterranean and plans its own exercises in coming weeks.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday the NATO exercises did not contribute to an atmosphere of trust and security.

Captain Ryan Scholl, commanding officer of the Truman, said there had been no interactions with Russian warships and U.S. and Russian pilots were largely abiding by the rules of engagement for air operations aimed at avoiding the potential for miscalculation.

“The extension of Truman and movement into the European Command theater, plus the overlap with the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group enables the continued degradation of ISIL and a host of operational benefits,” said Captain Danny Hernandez, spokesman for U.S. European Command, referring to the Islamic State militant group.

He said the overlapping carrier deployments were also intended to enable missions such as Operation Atlantic Resolve, aimed at reassuring U.S. allies in Europe after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The Truman has used the 72 warplanes on board to drop 1,481 smart bombs and pamphlets on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria since last December when it arrived in the Gulf, the Navy said on Wednesday.

It said jets based on the Truman had launched 68 raids over Iraq and Syria and delivered 52 precision weapons since moving to the Mediterranean from the Gulf last Friday.

Islamic State has lost 45 percent of its territory in Iraq and its oil revenues have been halved in Syria, said Rear Admiral Bret Batchelder, commander of the Truman strike group.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Italy rescues nearly 1,800 migrants in last 24 hours

A child is helped during a rescue operation by Italian navy ship Grecale off the coast of Sicily

ROME (Reuters) – Italian vessels have helped rescue nearly 1,800 migrants from boats trying to reach Italy from north Africa in the last 24 hours, the navy said on Friday, indicating that numbers are rising as the weather warms up.

The navy said 1,759 migrants were rescued in 10 operations involving the Italian navy, coastguard and finance police, the European Union’s external borders agency Frontex and the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres.

The Italian frigate Grecale was taking the migrants to the Sicilian port of Augusta, where they were expected to arrive on Saturday morning, a navy statement said. It gave no details of their nationalities.

The latest arrivals picked up in the Strait of Sicily will bring the total of migrants reaching Italy by boat so far this year to more than 30,000, slightly higher than in the same period of 2015.

Humanitarian organizations say the sea route between Libya and Italy is now the main route for asylum seekers heading for Europe, after an EU deal with Turkey dramatically slowed the flow of people reaching Greece.

Officials fear the numbers trying to make the crossing to southern Italy will increase as sailing conditions improve in warmer weather.

More than 1.2 million Arab, African and Asian migrants fleeing war and poverty have streamed into the European Union since the start of last year.

Most of those trying to reach Italy leave the coast of lawless Libya on rickety fishing boats or rubber dinghies, heading for the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is close to Tunisia, or toward Sicily.

On Wednesday, however, Italy’s coastguard said it had rescued 42 migrants from a sailboat off the coast of Puglia, in the southeastern heel of mainland Italy.

(Reporting by Gavin Jones; editing by Andrew Roche)

Mediterranean deaths soar as people-smugglers get crueler

GENEVA (Reuters) – More people died crossing the eastern Mediterranean in January than in the first eight months of last year, the International Organization for Migration said on Friday, blaming increased ruthlessness by people-traffickers.

As of Jan. 28, 218 had died in the Aegean Sea – a tally not reached on the Greek route until mid-September in 2015. Another 26 died in the central Mediterranean trying to reach Italy. Smugglers were using smaller, less seaworthy boats, and packing them with even more people than before, the IOM said.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the more reckless methods might be due to “panic in the market that this is not going to last much longer” as traffickers fear European governments may find ways to stem the unprecedented flow of migrants and refugees.

There also appeared to be new gangs controlling the trafficking trade in North Africa, he said.

“There was a very pronounced period at the end of the year when boats were not leaving Libya and we heard from our sources in North Africa that it was because of inter-tribal or inter-gang fighting for control of the market,” Millman said.

“And now that it’s picking up again and it seems to be more lethal, we wonder: what is the character of these groups that have taken over the trade?”

The switch to smaller, more packed boats had also happened on the route from Turkey to Greece, the IOM said, but was unable to explain why.

The increase in deaths in January was not due to more traffic overall. The number of arrivals in Greece and Italy was the lowest for any month since June 2015, with a total of 55,528 people landing there between Jan. 1 and Jan. 28, the IOM said.

Last year a record 1 million people made the Mediterranean Sea crossing, five times more than in 2014. During the year, the IOM estimates that 805 died in the eastern Mediterranean and 2,892 died in the central Mediterranean.

In the past few months the proportion of children among those making the journey has risen from about a quarter to more than a third, and Millman said children often made up more than half of the occupants of the boats.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)