AFM members honoured for Lampedusa shipwreck rescue

Armed Forces of Malta officers involved in rescue of migrants shipwrecked in the Maltese search and rescue region awarded Distinguished Service Medal.

Joseph Muscat (centre) with members of the Armed Forces of Malta's maritime unit, who were involved in the rescue of over 200 asylum seekers and migrants.
Joseph Muscat (centre) with members of the Armed Forces of Malta's maritime unit, who were involved in the rescue of over 200 asylum seekers and migrants.

33 members of the Armed Forces of Malta and three members of the Italian military mission were today awarded The Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) for their efforts to save and rescue hundreds of migrants whose boat capsized on their way to Europe.

The medals were awarded during this morning's Republic Day Gieh ir-Repubblika ceremony in recognition of the military officers' "distinguished and exceptional role in action on 11 October 2013 during this operation in the Central Mediterranean Sea to save life at sea and rescue people in distress."

On 11 October 2013, the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) coordinated the search and rescue of a group of at least 206 migrants whose boat capsized, 61.4 nautical miles south of Lampedusa. In its statement, government said that some 268 persons died in the tragedy.

Survivors of the ordeal, mainly Syrian refugees, said that their boat was shot at by armed Libyan persons, claims which prompted the Libyan government to open an investigation. They told MaltaToday that the boat which was around 20-metres long carried many more persons than first reported and the real reason why the boat capsized was because the vessel was shot at by Libyan military personnel who were following the migrants in a separate vessel.

They also said that at least two persons were killed in the shooting and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said three people were wounded in the shooting, citing reports from migrants. It said the shots were fired "perhaps by militiamen who shot to kill".

Meanwhile, some survivors are still waiting to be reunited with their children, spouses and siblings who were taken to Lampedusa during the rescue operation. The process could take weeks, and in recent days the Italian and Maltese authorities have been swapping images of survivors in order to identify the families which have been divided.

The medals were awarded to Major George Abela, Major Russell Caruana, Captain Pierre Paul Carabez, Lt. Peter Paul Debono, Second Lt. Benjamin Vassallo, Staff Sgt. Ruben Demicoli, Sgt. Mario Gauci, Sgt. Philip Cardona, Sgt. Christopher Xuereb, Sgt. Jamie  Desira, Sgt. Jesmond Agius, Sgt. Johan Theuma, Sgt. Alexander Gatt, Bdr. Jean Paul Grima, Bdr. Johann Aquilina, Bdr. Calcidonio Darmanin, Bdr. Ryan Debattista, LBdr. Simon Wayne Muscat, LBdr. Daniel Vella, LBdr. Karl Fabri, LBdr. Alvin Cutajar, LBdr. Pierre Cassar, LBdr. Glenn Attard, LBdr. Christian Muscat, LBdr. Eman Fenech, Gnr. Rodrick Debono, Gnr. Charlie Vella, Gnr. Daniel Abdilla, Gnr. Gian Luca Grixti, Gnr. Darren Borg, Gnr. Shaun Ciantar, Gnr. Lydon Luke Grech and Gnr. Malcolm Paul Busuttil.

The three members of the Missione Italiana di Collaborazione nel Campo della Difesa awarded today were Major Mario Bavagnoli, 1o Mar. Lgt Giacomo Mirra and 1o Maresciallo Davide Vesce.