P61 arrived 44 minutes after boat sunk

On 11 October, an international maritime message informed vessels of a migrant boat with more than 250 people on board which was requesting assistance off Lampedusa but the first vessel arrived on site four hours later when the boat had capsized and sunk.

Lampedusa survivors
Lampedusa survivors

A Hydrolant message warning that a migrant boat with more than 250 people on board was requesting assistance was sent at 1.34pm but the first vessel to arrive on the scene was the Maltese patrol boat, at 5.51pm,local Sunday newspaper The Malta Independent claimed today.

The Hydrolant message read; "Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Vessel, 250 persons on board, REQUESTING ASSISTANCE. Vessels in vicinity requested to keep a sharp lookout, assist if possible." All ships in the Eastern Mediterranean would have received this message, sent at 1.34pm.

Two merchant ships, the Stadt Bremenhaven and the Tyrusland and Italian warship ITS Libra could have reached the sinking boat in just an hour and a half. Also, five Guardia Costiera and two Guardia di Finanza vessels berthed in Lampedusa were not instructed to help.

The international maritime warning was issued on 11 October regarding a migrant's boat, which the night before had been punctured by Libyan machinegun fire and was sinking off Lampedusa. The maritime warning asked vessels close to the area to assist if possible. At 5.07pm, the boat capsized with rescue arriving 44 minutes later.

While both Maltese and Italian authorities knew the severity of the incident, merchant and military vessels a few kilometres away were not diverted to help the migrants. The Maltese patrol boat arrived on site at 5.51pm and the ITS Libra shortly after 6pm. Coast Guard vessels which eventually left their Lampedusa berth did not make it to the sunk boat until after 8pm.

However former AFM commander Brigadier Martin Xuereb said he did not remember being informed the boat was sinking. Unless the Italian Authorities informed the AFM that those on board were in imminent danger of losing their lives, the case would not necessarily be treated as urgent, Xuereb had said. But

Maltese and Italian military ships and Coast Guard agencies, had received the Hydrolant message, as did most seagoing vessels. Brigadier Xuereb reiterated the P61 was patrolling around 60km away but offered no explanation why four hours had elapsed before the patrol boat reached the now capsized migrant boat.

New AFM commander Jeffrey Curmi explained merchant ships could be diverted to help in SAR missions and defended the maritime boys saying the AFM acted correctly and on time. 


More in National