Fail Story : Liquid Traces

Doing Good is Good Business / Week 11 / Fail Story


For the fail story, I was conflicted between two topics. One was a fail story during my experience working at Amazon. The story involves working for a new workflow on a website that caters to millions of vendors globally, and making errors on it due to lack of customer interaction, hence delaying the launch. However, since the data around this project is supposed to be confidential I decided to present this other story that I came across during my visit to MoMA.

I wanted to present this incident which talks about a vessel carrying 72 Libyan migrants, and how they were stranded and left to die at sea.


Here’s a chronological outline of the story:

  • 72 Libyan migrants decide to sail in the Mediterranean north-bound towards the Italian island of Lampedusa. This was in consequence of the Libyan Civil War in 2011.
  • The boat went out of fuel midway and sent out a distress call to an Eritrean priest in Italy.
  • The boat’s position was determined and was found to be outside the search and rescue zones of Italy or Malta (see picture). Italy relayed the message to NATO.
  • During the entire time, the boat was in NATO surveilled waters and was identified and positioned by the NATO patrols.
  • NATO protocols dictate minimal assistance for migrants.
  • Resultantly, the boat was stranded in the sea. The passengers soon ran out of food and water. Subsequently, they started passing away one after the other.
  • For fourteen days, the boat was adrift at the mercy of the ocean currents and the wind.
  • On the fifteenth day, the boat washed away at the coast of Zlitan, Libya. With only 11 passengers still breathing.
  • Two passengers died while being rescued and held in prison. Only 9 out the 72 survived.

Talking Points:

Below are the talking points that I have identified:

1. What should’ve been a straightforward search and rescue operation turned into  a game of shifting responsibility. There were military vessels as close as within two hours of travel from the boat, yet there was no assistance offered to the dying people.
2. Negligence of human life. Just because the distressed boat was carrying refugees bears no justification for indifference. This one instance shows that 63 people died. In the year 2011, 1500 other deaths have been documented for the people fleeing Libya due to the conflict. 14,000 deaths have been documented in the past 20 years in the maritime borders of the EU.
3. Lack of communication. Although, certain parties were informed about the boat’s position and distress there was no follow-up by any of the concerned authorities.


My source of reference was the UN exhibition at MoMA which installed a screening of the short film Liquid Traces. You can watch the film here.

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