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Italian navy officers investigated over drowning of 300 asylum seekers in Maltese waters

Prosecutors in Rome are investigating Italian officers suspected of culpable homicide over their failure to provide assistance to a sinking boat

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan
26 October 2016, 12:30pm
Catia Pellegrino who was awarded a presidential medal of honour is among the officers under investigation
Catia Pellegrino who was awarded a presidential medal of honour is among the officers under investigation
Italian navy officers are facing prosecution over the drowning of some 300 asylum seekers after the officers failed to respond promptly to SOS calls in a rescue mission in the Maltese search and rescue region in 2013.

In a damning report published in 2014, Amnesty International had said that some 200 people presumed to have died in the Lampedusa shipwreck in October 2013 could have been saved if Italian and Maltese authorities had not dithered over rescue operations.

In a tragedy which shook the world, the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) rescued 147 people, Italian vessels picked up another 39, while the other passengers were never found.

Now, prosecutors in Rome are investigating Italian officers suspected of culpable homicide over their failure to provide assistance to a sinking boat, on which at least 268 people are believed to have died.

A Freedom of Information request by MaltaToday on the details of the rescue mission that had first been refused by the AFM was also rejected by the Information and Data Protection Commissioner.

147 refugees landed in Malta in the 2013 tragedy that shook the world
147 refugees landed in Malta in the 2013 tragedy that shook the world
The boat, which left Syria with 480 aboard including more than 100 children, sank about 100km south of Lampedusa and 217km from Malta, but in the Maltese search and rescue region. 

The Italian navy has faster vessels but responsibility for the incident was passed to the Maltese authorities, which dispatched one of the Armed Forces of Malta’s patrol boats, which was further from the scene than Italian navy vessels. 

Among the officers under formal investigation is Lieutenant Catia Pellegrino, the commander of the patrol vessel Libra, who was awarded a presidential medal of honour for her role in rescuing people in the Mediterranean.

On 11 October, 2013, Italian rescuers allegedly delayed responding to calls for help from a fishing boat crowded with refugees from Syria because of a bureaucratic tangle.

The Maltese boat arrived at 5.51pm, by which time the refugees had been in the water for 40 minutes and most of the children were dead. Pellegrino’s vessel, which had not initially been ordered to respond, arrived shortly after.

Italy’s failure to respond was condemned by one of the survivors, a doctor from Aleppo who lost two young sons in the tragedy. 

Mohamad Jammo said he first called the Italian coastguard at 11am after the fishing boat had been shot at by a Libyan patrol boat.

“We asked for help and for an hour and a half nothing happened. Only afterwards they told us to call the Maltese navy. So two vital hours were lost,” Jammo told L’Espresso, an Italian magazine.

When Jammo called for a third time at 1pm, Italian officials told him to call Malta, gave him the number and hung up, he said.

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan joined MaltaToday in 2011, specialising in politics, foreig...