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The EU Ombudsman on Wednesday (26 July) launched an investigation into the role of the bloc’s border agency Frontex in the 14 June sinking of the Adriana trawler that led to more than 500 people drowning — one of the single death-tolls in the Mediterranean Sea.

“A tragedy of this magnitude requires all those involved to reflect on their responsibilities and to be clear to the public who is accountable for these deaths,” said EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly.

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“My office will focus on the role of Frontex as we try to piece together the events that led to the capsizing of the boat and the deaths of at least 500 people,” she added. 

The EU’s watchdog body has requested access to several documents, including the official reports about how events unfolded that day and other reports concerning recent incidents in the Mediterranean Sea with significant loss of life.

O’Reilly’s inquiry adds to two investigations initiated by the Greek government—one targeting the people smugglers it blames responsible for the disaster, and the other scrutinising the actions of the Greek coastguard.

She said her office will be collaborating with the Greek ombudsman Andreas Pottakis, who is also investigating the handling of the Adriana boat by the Greek authorities.

Frontex said it spotted the Adriana trawler, a vessel carrying hundreds of migrants leaving from Libya, on 13 June with a surveillance aircraft. Given that they were running low on fuel, it alerted Greek and Italian authorities about the sighting and then returned to base.

Earlier in July, the head of the EU’s border agency Hans Leijtens said Frontex offered on two occasions to early deploy one of their drones — but the Greeks never responded.

“It has been reported that in this instance Frontex alerted the Greek authorities to the ship’s presence and offered assistance but it is not clear what else it could or should have done,” said O’Reilly, arguing that migration in Europe will continue and that the EU must find a way to uphold the human rights of migrants.

“It is up to the EU to ensure that it acts in a way that maintains fundamental rights and does not lose sight of the human suffering that compels people to seek a better life beyond their home countries,” she warned.

On Wednesday, the EU Ombudsman also revealed that she will be looking into the recent EU migration deal with Tunisia and its impact on human rights.

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