First appeared on Russia Insider
Four years ago 360 Africans drowned when their vessel capsized 60 nautical miles off Lampedusa, a small Italian island between Sicily and Africa. The vessel was traveling from Libya, but most of the people on board were from Somalia, Eritrea and Ghana.
An Italian reporter has now obtained tapes that show that Italian authorities had a military vessel just 20 miles from the spot, but for five hours refused to sail to help albeit they knew there was an emergency. The refugees on the ship had repeatedly reached Italian coastal authorities but the latter only moved the second time the Maltese asked them to.
But, until Monday, the public did not know that the refugees had alerted Italian authorities that they were in distress as early as five hours before their ship sank. Even though the refugees’ ship called the Italian coast guard and warned that it was floating adrift, taking on water and had wounded children aboard, Italian authorities refused to intervene for several hours.
L’Espresso published five recordings of separate telephone conversations from the day of the incident. In the first, at 12:39 p.m., passenger Mohanned Jammo, a doctor who survived the shipwreck and who had a smartphone with him, calls the headquarters of the Italian coast guard in Rome asking for help. “The boat is going down” and “water is coming into it,” he says. A woman can be heard asking for his position, which he gives.
At 1:17 p.m., Jammo calls again, asking if the coast guard has sent anyone. He is answered by a man who tells him to call Malta instead. “You are near Malta,” the man claims. In truth, the ship was 61 nautical miles from Lampedusa — but 118 nautical miles from Malta.
In a third conversation, at 1:48 p.m., Jammo again calls the coast guard, saying he called Maltese authorities and was told he is closer to Lampedusa. “Lampedusa is Italy?” he asks. “We are dying, please.”
Although the ship was closer to Italian soil, it was in an area of international waters where Malta holds responsibility for search-and-rescue missions under European agreements. But, at the time, Italy had a military vessel about 20 nautical miles from the refugees’ ship, while Malta’s closest ship was 70 nautical miles away. Fabrizio Gatti, the investigative reporter who obtained the recordings, said in a telephone conversation with The Washington Post that the Italian ship, as the closest ship able to help, was obligated to rescue the refugees under international maritime law.
At that point, Malta sent a surveillance plane to check on the refugees. At 5:07 p.m., the Maltese called the Italians, telling them that the refugees’ ship had capsized. They urged the Italians to send their ship because their own would not arrive in time to save the Syrians. Only then did Italy agree to send its ship.
By then, it was too late.
This mimics an episode during the western bombing of Libya in 2011 when NATO ships intervening there supposedly on humanitarian grounds left people fleeing Libya whose boat lost power and was drifting helplessly die of thirst:
Dozens of African migrants were left to die in the Mediterranean after a number of European military units apparently ignored their cries for help, the Guardian has learned. Two of the nine survivors claim this included a Nato ship.
A boat carrying 72 passengers, including several women, young children and political refugees, ran into trouble in late March after leaving Tripoli for the Italian island of Lampedusa. Despite alarms being raised with the Italian coastguard and the boat making contact with a military helicopter and a warship, no rescue effort was attempted.
All but 11 of those on board died from thirst and hunger after their vessel was left to drift in open waters for 16 days.
“Every morning we would wake up and find more bodies, which we would leave for 24 hours and then throw overboard,” said Abu Kurke, one of only nine survivors. “By the final days, we didn’t know ourselves … everyone was either praying, or dying.”
Western nations claim huge concern and responsibility for the lives of ordinary people in Middle Eastern nations. This great concern conveniently compels them to intervene politically and sometimes militarily to topple and destroy their governments. However, it does not compel them to throw a rope to these same people when they are drowning in front of their eyes.
Note: The Washington Post reports the people who drowned in the 2013 shipwreck were Syrian refugees. That is actually not true. However, many of them hailed from Somalia where the US has been heavily engaged politically and militarily for over a decade, and contributed to a severe famine and sponsored an Ethiopian invasion and occupation.