A Boat Of 243 Refugees Vanished Last Year -- And You Can Help Find Them

Medium is leading an international effort to figure out what happened.

One year ago, 243 refugees, most of them fleeing Eritrea, were due to set sail across the Mediterranean Sea on a boat from Libya for Europe. That boat never arrived, and no one knows what happened to the men, women and children aboard.

The mystery of what happened to the refugee boat and its passengers is the subject of a new series launched at Medium, an online publishing platform, titled “Ghost Boat.”

Bobbie Johnson, a senior editor at Medium, explained in a post introducing the two-month-long series that the hope is to involve readers in the investigation by releasing the data they uncover as the series unfolds.

In order to insure that tips received along the way are legitimate, the project has partnering with First Draft, a group that sets best practices for verifying user-generated information. The project has also partnered with Al Jazeera’s AJ+ platform, which will publish videos promoting the series.

The series will be unspooled in weekly serialized "episodes." In the first episode, the project’s lead reporter, Eric Reidy, tells the story of 24-year-old Segen, one of the boat’s passengers, and her husband, Yafet. Yafet last heard from his wife in late June 2014, the day before she was set to leave for Europe with their youngest daughter, Abigail, at her side. A smuggler who has since been imprisoned told Yafet in early July that his wife and daughter had safely arrived.

Yafet believed the smuggler at the time. More than a year later, with no word from them and no evidence of what happened to them, he thinks he shouldn’t have.

As Reidy explained to NPR in an interview for “Weekend Edition,” the team has two main theories at this time -- that the boat sank and somehow left behind no forensic evidence, or that the passengers are alive but imprisoned in Tunisia, based on phone calls a family member of a passenger had with someone who claimed to be a Tunisian prison guard.

The series reminds readers of the great peril the migrants face as they uproot their lives and head west. In this case, that peril has manifested in a mystery that has otherwise been largely overlooked by international media.

“The idea that a boat could go missing or sink in 2014 and not be on the radar of any authorities, with no bodies recovered, is pretty strange,” Reidy told the Nieman Journalism Lab’s Laura Hazard Owen in an interview last week.


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