Leaked audiotapes reveal that Italian authorities delayed responding to a capsized refugee boat's pleas for help, resulting in the drowning of 268 Syrians, including 60 children, The Washington Post reports.
The 2013 shipwreck has long been considered one of the most tragic examples of the dangerous crossing migrants attempt in order to reach Europe. The ship had at least 480 passengers on board when it left northwestern Libya for the Italian island of Lampedusa, but it capsized 61 nautical miles south of its goal. Italian and Maltese ships were able to save some of the passengers, but the majority of the refugees drowned before responders reached the boat.
On Monday, the Italian magazine L'Espresso published tapes showing that Italian authorities had known the refugee ship was in trouble hours beforehand but refused to respond, The Washington Post reports:
... [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." [The Washington Post]
In another conversation from 4:44 p.m., an Italian coast guard officer tells the Maltese Navy that a nearby Italian ship would not respond to the refugee boat's distress calls because Italy would then be "in charge of transfer to the nearest coast." While Malta was willing to respond, its closest ship was 70 nautical miles away while Italy's closest ship was just 20 nautical miles away.
After sending a surveillance plane to check on the capsized boat, Malta again called the Italians, this time at 5:07 p.m., to encourage an urgent response as their own navy ship could not reach the Syrians in time. Only then did the Italians finally respond.
Read the full report at The Washington Post.