29. November 2013 · Kommentare deaktiviert für Rettung verweigert: über 200 syrische Flüchtlinge ertranken zwischen Lampedusa u. Malta – espresso · Kategorien: Italien, Malta · Tags: , , , ,

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Lampedusa, passing the buck of responsabilities: this is how they left the Syrian children drown

The „Libra“ ship of the Italian Navy was just a few miles away from the refugees. But it wasn’t engaged in rescue operations for hours. The first call for help reached the Coast Guard station in Rome. Which in turn passed on the intervention to Malta despite Italians were closer to the site of the shipwreck. „We acted in compliance with International agreements.“ This is how more than 260 people died on October 11. The shocking story on „l’Espresso“

di Fabrizio Gatti

Lampedusa, passing the buck of responsabilities: this is how they left the Syrian children drown

Lampedusa, passing the buck of responsabilities: this is how they left the Syrian children drown

Sitting in the sunshine, little Joud Mustafa is playing “Subway Surfer” on her father’s iPad. Such an uncomfortable journey on the crowded and dirty deck of a fishing-boat is infinitely boring for a three-year-old.  Finally even Joud falls asleep in her mother’s arms, totally exhausted. There hasn’t been anything to eat for the past two days. They’ve even run out of drinking-water.  But finally some good news is being spread around by the whispers of these 480-500 passengers.  The Italian Coast Guard’s Operations Unit has answered the call for rescue that a doctor on board conveyed with his satellite telephone. Many of them express their thanks to God and the Italian people.  It’s 12:26 p.m. on Friday, October 11th.  Hence the countdown involving protocol and red-tape begins, which will end up killing Joud and her mother in a matter of five hours. Together with between sixty and one-hundred children, their families and dozens of Syrian youngsters who believed they were about to find safety in Europe. It’s a chilling roulette of numbers:  at least 268 drowned at sea, only 26 bodies fished out of the water and 212 survivors.  And the unacceptable finale, in all of its absurdness:  the ship named Libra belonging to the Italian Navy is very close to those refugees – just beyond the horizon.  Between 27 and 10 miles away, just about one hour or thirty minutes of navigation. But for hours neither Italian nor Maltese authorities request its intervention.

JOUD MUSTAFA, 3 anni, dispersa in...

JOUD MUSTAFA, 3 anni, dispersa in mare con la mamma Fatena Khatib, 27, ingegnere ambientale

The Libra patrol boat has a large deck, a helicopter on board and expert sailors able to provide all the refugees with their help.  Its commander, young Lieutenant Catia Pellegrino, is an icon of the Italian Navy. The sinking fishing-boat is certainly visible on their radar screen, being such a short distance away.  But no one gives any orders; no one takes any decisions that might still save 268 lives. The Libra is authorized to reach the spot only at 17:14 hours.  At that time, the children’s ship has already capsized seven minutes earlier; the sea is an expanse of living and dead people. The delays also drastically reduce daytime light available for research.  Once darkness sets in, those floating in the water risk not being seen by rescuers and are left to drift away towards a death of hardship, freezing cold and starvation. This is perhaps the reason why some Syrians swear they noticed children and adults hanging onto driftwood from the fishing-boat, but then didn’t find them amongst the survivors who were taken to safety on land.

La nave militare Libra, che mentre...

La nave militare Libra, che mentre 268 persone annegavano si trovava a solo un’ora di navigazione

“L’Espresso” has discovered the exact Operations Unit that received the first call for rescue. The one that might have changed the turn of events. It is the Coordination Centre of Rome belonging to the General Command of Harbour Master Authorities, a Navy sector within the Ministry of Transports upon which Coast Guard activities depend.  The ship loaded with Syrian refugees sinks 113 kilometres away from Lampedusa and 218 from kilometres from Malta. Cause of the disaster: the excessive number of passengers obliged to get on board by two brothers named Khaled and Mohamed (ruthless traffickers from the Zuwara port in Libya), in addition to rounds of machine-gun fire that were shot the previous night from a Libyan patrol boat and ended up piercing through the hull. Cause of the delay in rescue operations: passing the buck of responsibilities between Italy and Malta during research and rescue procedures has already caused dead and missing persons in the past.  The chronological reconstruction of events for this article was made possible by analyzing data from nearly thirteen-thousand positions of ships in transit: their coordinates, speed and direction, from eleven o’clock in the morning until midnight on Friday. A laboratory in Great Britain has extracted the emergency numbers memorized in one of the telephones that were fished out of the sea.  In addition to geographical and scientific data, there’s the eye-witness report provided by Admiral Felicio Angrisano (Commanding General of the Harbour Authorities Corps and of the Coast Guard) and the reports given by some Italian Navy officers.

La posizione del peschereccio carico...

La posizione del peschereccio carico di bambini siriani durante l’inutile attesa dei soccorsi

The point of no return of the tragedy is overcome at 1:00 p.m. on October 11th: at that time the Italian Operations Centre could have still saved the children and the other passengers. But it turns down direct intervention and passes the call for rescue on to its colleagues in Malta. Despite the fact that the distance between the boat full of children and Malta is double the distance between the boat and Lampedusa.  A decision which Admiral Angrisano explains in a written report forwarded to “l’Espresso” as follows: «The sequence of events described is in accordance with criteria of international conduct specifically outlined in the Hamburg Rules, appointing each State with the responsibility of coordinating research and rescue operations in defined and declared areas». Therefore they are telling the surviving mothers and fathers who have lost the rest of their family that their children, their loved ones have perished at sea in compliance to the Hamburg Rules, namely the agreement that since 1979 has entrusted the Ministry of Transports with the responsibility of rescue at sea.

Reem Dahhan, 30 anni, scomparsa in...

Reem Dahhan, 30 anni, scomparsa in mare con i suoi bambini Tarek, 4, Bisher, 1, Mohamed, 9

The Commanding General of the Italian Coast Guard confirms the testimony provided by Mohanad Jammo (40) and published by “l’Espresso” at the beginning of November. Their versions do not match only in one point.  Dr. Jammo, head physician working in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital in Aleppo (Syria), has lost his six-year-old and nine-month-old children during the shipwreck. He’s the one who speaks with the Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome using a telephone on board the fishing-boat.  He calls upon the request of the “scafista” (people trafficker), who lends Dr. Jammo his Thuraya mobile satellite service.  Jammo calls Italy simply because the screens of three different GPS instruments on board report that Lampedusa is just a little over one-hundred kilometres away.  And that Malta is more than two-hundred kilometres away. A sense of logic and common sense would have urged anyone into making that choice. One-hundred kilometres means two hours of navigation for Coast Guard patrol boats and slightly more than an hour and a half for the fast patrol boats belonging to the Guardia di Finanza Corps stationed in Lampedusa that October 11th, following the shipwreck of Eritrean refugees that took place eight days earlier. «I called the same Italian telephone number three times», says Mohanad Jammo: «at about eleven o’clock in the morning, then at 12:30 p.m. and slightly before one o’clock in the afternoon». Jammo’s words are confirmed by another two surviving physicians:  Ayman Mustafa (38), surgeon, the father of Joud who is now officially lost at sea along with his mother Fatena (27); and by Mazen Dahhan (36), neurosurgeon, who lost his wife Reem (30) and their three children.

The only thing that Admiral Angrisano denies is the eleven o’clock telephone call. All of the rest is confirmed.  «At 12:26 p.m.», he says, «a very disturbed telephone call reaches the Operations Centre from a satellite telephone, to the point of being unintelligible at times. After five minutes of attempts to communicate, the telephone line is cut off. According to my experience, I am however led into getting in touch with the Thuraya network provider whose premises are in the United Arab Emirates, as I have already done hundreds of times for similar cases».

Eight minutes following the end of the first conversation, Dr. Jammo calls again.  It’s 12:39 p.m. and the telephone call continues until 12:56. The voice is more intelligible: «So much so as to allow us to acquire some elements, number and nationality of the people on board, place of departure, the presence of two children in need of treatment, and finally the position of the vessel whose engine had broken down and was shipping water», adds Angrisano.
So the Operations Centre in Rome knows that there are refugees on board, that there are children, wounded and that the fishing-boat is sinking. Even ignoring the eleven o’clock telephone call, that is in any case confirmed by Mohanad Jammo, at one o’clock they still have enough time on their hands to dispatch some patrol boats from Lampedusa. And, calculating their speed, they could reach destination between 2:30 and 3:00 p.m.   Namely at least two hours before the slaughter takes place. Then there’s the Libra and further away, at a distance of 96 kilometres, the Espero. These two military ships are in the area to protect Italian fishing-boats from Libyan attacks. In other words, Maltese patrol boats would have to travel double the distance compared to the two patrol boats belonging to the Italian Navy. And compared to the vessels still in Lampedusa, which are mostly anchored in the port that afternoon. Yet the Operations Centre in Rome passes the call for rescue on to Malta at one o’clock.
Mayar Shaabi, 6 mesi

Mayar Shaabi, 6 mesi

When the Italian Coast Guard announces its decisions to Mohanad Jammo, he begs them: «Please, we’re about to die». And the military tells him over the telephone: «Please call Maltese authorities. I’ll give you the number:  it’s 00356…».

«If you listen to the recording», recalls Dr. Jammo, «you’ll see that he didn’t even give me enough time.  He hung up before I finished writing the number down». This invitation to directly get in touch with Malta, explains Admiral Angrisano, «is in compliance with a clear, tested and productive method that through direct contact between those who ask for help and those who are obliged to provide assistance produces more effective and productive rescue operations».  Everyone on board is terrified. The lower deck is completely flooded.  Passengers begin to climb up to the main deck and then up onto the top deck. Mazen Dahhan, who’s down there, gets hold of his children Mohamed (9), Tarek (4) and little Bisher (1) and then passes them up to Ayman Mustafa who gets them to sit on the dry floor. Little Joud is still asleep, hugging onto her mother.

Joud Mustafa, 5 anni

Joud Mustafa, 5 anni

Even Jammo’s eldest son Mohamad (6) is sleeping in the sunshine.  He opens his eyes for an instant and watches his father standing on the roof of the control cabin, whose voice gets more and more desperate as he continues to call Malta over a satellite phone. Their eyes meet for a fleeting moment.  His father gives Mohamad the thumbs-up. The little boy smiles at him and then goes back to sleep.  That is the last time they gazed upon each other.

«The vessel is in waters belonging to Malta’s jurisdiction», insists Admiral Felicio Angrisano in his written report. «That Coordination Centre is therefore summoned at one o’clock by the Coast Guard Operations Centre, informing them that it has also identified two merchant ships in the area, closer to the migrants’ boat, respectively at a distance of 25 and 70 miles». At 1:05 p.m. Maltese authorities, according to the Commander of the Coast Guard, take over the management of rescue and emergency operations. Again according to Admiral Angrisano: «In the meantime, according to provisions of the Chief Command of the Navy squadron, even the Libra with helicopter on board heads in that direction». But there’s something that doesn’t add up.ccording to the Italian Navy, at 1:34 p.m. the Libra is only 27 miles away from spot the call of rescue was made from. That’s equal to 50 kilometres. At the ship’s top speed of 20 knots (37 kilometres per hour) considering the calm seas, Libra could have reached the refugees in an hour and a half. Namely already at three o’clock in the afternoon. But on the contrary, it only gets there at six o’clock: because only after the children’s boat sinks do Maltese coordinators ask the Operations Centre in Rome for Italian assistance. At 5:14 p.m, when it finally receives orders to intervene, the Libra ship is still ten miles (18 kilometres) away. In other words, it’s been sailing for hours while awaiting for someone to decide what must be done. Four and a half hours to travel 50 kilometres means an average speed of 11 kilometres per hour, less than 6 knots: certainly not at an emergency pace.

Kenda Awad, 12 anni, la sorella...

Kenda Awad, 12 anni, la sorella Marwa, 14, e il fratello Aldin, 9 anni

There’s another incredible story behind 1:34 p.m. that afternoon. It’s the moment in which the notice to mariners by the Operations Centre in Rome is broadcast all over the world:  the “hydrolant 2545” warning asks all ships in transit to help out the fishing-boat if possible. Ships in transit. And not the Libra. Why? «The Rome Coordination Centre immediately offers the contribution requested by indicating the presence, in the vaster area, of two merchant ships and a ship belonging to the Italian Navy», affirms Coast Guard command:  «The authorities who, according to the Hamburg Rules, assume the administration and coordination of rescue activities, decide upon the timing, methods and even eventual requests for cooperation». In other words, it’s the fault of those in Malta who forget to engage the Libra in rescue activities. Maltese Armed Forces still have to provide explanations.

Mnawer Raheel, 35-anni, e sua figlia...

Mnawer Raheel, 35-anni, e sua figlia Bisan, di 9 mesi

At 4:22 p.m., authorities in Malta inform Rome that one of their aircrafts has identified the fishing-boat adrift.  At 5:07 p.m., once again from Valletta, they transit a bulletin informing that the boat has capsized and ask Italy for help.

The first rescue boat, namely the Maltese P61 patrol boat, reaches the site only at 5:51 p.m.  It is joined by Libra at around six o’clock.  In the meantime, patrol boats CP301 and CP301 are dispatched from Lampedusa, together with two fast patrol boats belonging to the Guardia di Finanza Corps. Exactly what Dr. Jammo’s common sense had been begging for over the last six hours.

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