The Iuventa

The Iuventa

Counter-investigation of the events leading to the seizure of an NGO rescue vessel

18 June 2017

Investigation by Forensic Oceanography and Forensic Architecture
Realised with the support of Borderline Europe, the WatchTheMed platform and Transmediale

As the EU’s policies of deterrence deployed since the Arab uprisings failed to stem migrants’ crossings across the Mediterranean, the Italian government – in collaboration with other European governments and agencies – deployed a two-pronged strategy to close off the central Mediterranean: on the one hand, by criminalising and limiting the rescue activities of the NGOs that have stepped in to make up for the lack of state rescue operations; and on the other, by reinforcing the collaboration with Libyan authorities and militias to prevent and intercept departures, thus physically containing migrants on the Mediterranean’s southern shore without requiring the direct involvement of Italian or EU authorities. This undeclared operation, which dramatically escalated over 2017, is what Forensic Oceanography has called ‘Mare Clausum’ (‘closed sea’ in Latin).

Forensic Oceanography and Forensic Architecture have investigated two cases central to this ongoing ‘Mare Clausum’ research, The Iuventa and Sea Watch vs. Libyan Coast Guard (forthcoming), each concerning one of the dimensions of this policy which entails migrants being brought back to a country where their lives are endangered, and their human rights are systematically violated. These investigations have been made possible by an exponential increase in video documentation by the different actors involved, allowing for a unique form of 3D modelling of incidents developed together with Forensic Architecture.

Since the end of 2016, culminating in summer 2017, a growing campaign of delegitimisation and criminalisation has systematically targeted NGOs engaged in search and rescue. On August 2nd, the ship Iuventa, of the German NGO Jugend Rettet (‘Youth Rescue’), was seized by the Italian judiciary under suspicion of ‘assistance to illegal migration’ and collusion with smugglers during three different rescue operations: the first on the 10 September 2016, the second and third on 18 June 2017. The seizure came only days after the NGO, along with several others, had refused to sign a ‘code of conduct’ that would have dangerously limited their activities. The video presented here offers a counter-investigation of the authorities’ version of these three episodes, and a refutation of their accusations.

This investigation was exhibited as part of Counter Investigations: Forensic Architecture at the Institute for Contemporary Art, London (UK), 7 Mar – 13 May 2018.

Forensic Oceanography Team

Charles Heller

Lorenzo Pezzani

Forensic Architecture Team

Nathan Su

Christina Varvia

Eyal Weizman

Grace Quah

Technical Consultants

Rossana Padaletti (GIS)

Richard Limeburner (Oceanography)


Borderline Europe

WatchTheMed Platform


Footage and stills by  Jugend Rettet e.V. and Reuters

Comments are closed.