AFM turns down complaint on refusal to disclose Lampedusa rescue mission timeline

Armed Forces claims disclosure would affect international relations between Malta and Italy

The AFM saved over 250 lives in the Lampedusa shipwreck
The AFM saved over 250 lives in the Lampedusa shipwreck

The Armed Forces of Malta has turned down a complaint from MaltaToday on a Freedom of Information request it refused.

MaltaToday is demanding a detailed timeline of the rescue mission that took place on 11 October 2013, to establish how Italian and Maltese armed forces cooperated in the search and rescue mission after receiving a 1pm distress call by a boat carrying possibly over 400 asylum seekers and refugees.

The rescue mission was effected three hours after the first distress call reached the Italian rescue coordination centre, during which an Italian navy ship, the ITS Libra, was already out at sea and could have effected a faster rescue.

The AFM has refused MaltaToday's FOIA request and turned down its complaint. This newspaper will be referring the matter in a complaint to the Information and Data Protection Commissioner - although no tribunal has been yet set up by the government to consider any appeals to IDPC decisions.

The army is claiming that MaltaToday's request is being refused because the information could damage the security, defence or international relations of Malta, citing Article 29 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

It also cited Article 30, which exempts documents affecting public safety; Article 38 a broad category listing operations concerning public authorities; and Article 35, which exempts documents where the public interest would not be served.

"The Armed Forces of Malta considers the documents containing the information requested to be exempt from disclosure bearing in mind that the public interest that is served by non-disclosure outweighs the public interest in disclosure. This release would or could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the security, the defence or the international relations of Malta with Italy," the AFM said in its reply to MaltaToday.

"The applicant himself recognised in his complaint that this matter involves international relations between the two countries and it is moreover counter to national security interests to expose the AFM's operational modus operandi. Nevertheless, the AFM would like to reassure the applicant that every effort was made and all diligence exercised to ensure not only adherence to international obligations and well established procedures but also to provide timely assistance to preserve life."

MaltaToday's request specifically asked the following questions:

On the 11 October 2013, the AFM carried out a rescue mission of over 200 migrants at sea.

1. At what time did the AFM receive a rescue call from Rome (RCC)? Who was the person at RCC who communicated this rescue call? Can the AFM convey the exact content of the rescue call?

2. How many rescue calls did the AFM receive on 11 October, and were there any rescue calls from Thuraya phones belonging to the people on board the boat in distress? Did an AFM officer/official speak to any person on board the boat in distress

3. At what time did the AFM dispatch its assets, both air and naval, to locate the boat in distress? Kindly specify at what time the King Air left Malta base and at what time did it locate the boat in distress?

4. Did the AFM send out any calls for merchant vessels and other commercial boats to answer to the distress call - was there any response? Which were the boats that answered, what were their actions)?

5. At what time did the patrol boat P-61 leave Malta to effect the rescue mission? At what time did it arrive at the rescue spot?

6. At what time did the AFM request Rome (Italy) to assist it in the rescue mission? Which were the boats that assisted the AFM?

7. Can the AFM confirm whether it asked Rome to effect the rescue mission since the boat was located closer to Lampedusa, and due to the proximity of the ITS Libra which was out at sea at that moment?

I do have to agree with Ziga. Do not beat a dead horse to death The PN and Maltatoday should stick more close to domestic problems like I mentioned a couple of days ago. The PN should concentrate on why Joseph Muscat is willing to sell our Integrity and our Respect to any rogue around the world that can come up with 650,000 euros? The AFM soldiers have always risked their own lives and tried to rescue these illegal immigrants who had trouble with their stalled boats and dinghies at sea. Note that a lot of these boats and dinghies developed breakdowns at the right intended moment and that is when they spotted the AFM boats. Everyone of these illegal immigrants is aware of the consequences before they leave and I suggest that Malta and the Maltese owe these Maltese sailors and soldiers a bunch of gratitude and not question their motives in the line of duty. I don't see the PN, the EU or any NGO trying to risk their lives to save these people but all are ready to criticize so swiftly. Let the AFM do their job the way they know how. We seem to be experts judging from behind our desks. Shame on you PN and somewhat shame on this media for pushing the issue. Put the blame on those that created the bad situation in the first place and that is the illegal immigrants themselves who were ignorant enough to overload this unworthy sea boat in the first place. Nobody wants to see these tragedies happen but they do and like I said, they happen mostly because of ignorance on the part of the illegal immigrants and the human traffickers who could not care less about what happens to these poor souls.
SimonPn's mission statement. ' Divide and rule,play dirty and negative. The important thing is that when we are in power our families will be better off: punto e basta"!
This is the hall mark of the PN whenever in Opposition. Do as much harm to Malta and the Government on the international media and with every foreign government. No wonder you were called "Il-Partit Sahta ta' Malta".
Can the PN who is now in opposition drop this nonsense once and for all, the PN is damaging Malta's reputation by raising issues which at the end of the day are not in Malta's best national interests. We have enough problems of our won and if the PN wants to be an effective opposition they should debate domestic issues and not try and shine infront of International figures like Gonzi often used to do.