Two survivors of a 2011 boat tragedy which killed 63 people off Libya filed suits Tuesday in France and Spain, accusing defence forces of the two countries of failing to assist people in danger.
The incident dates back to March 26, 2011, when 72 African migrants left the Libyan capital Tripoli on a boat destined for Italy, their planned departure having been brought forward by the start of the French-led military intervention in Libya.
They quickly lost control of the overloaded boat and, after drifting for two weeks, were washed up on the Libyan coastline on April 10.
Abu Kurke, a 25-year-old Eritrean, told a news conference in Paris that all but nine of those on board had by then died of hunger or thirst or had been swept away by the waves.
"At the beginning we tried to keep the bodies but the stench became too bad and we had to throw them into the sea," he said. He survived by drinking his own urine and eating toothpaste.
Kurke, who finally made it to Europe and now lives in the Netherlands, said distress calls made by satellite phones were ignored, despite the Italian coast guard circulating the information to dozens of French and Spanish ships in the area.
On the night of the 27th March, the migrants’ boat was overflown by a military helicopter, according to Kurke.
"They dropped water and biscuits and we showed them that there were babies on board," he said. "They signalled that they were going to come back but they never did."
Backed by four rights groups including the International Federation of Human Rights, the survivors Tuesday filed suits in Paris and Madrid.
The survivors have already lodged a similar legal action in Italy, one is planned in Belgium and they are seeking information from official military records in Canada and the United States.