Press Release from WatchTheMed Alarm Phone
+++ Deliberate delay of rescue in 2013 goes to trial in Rome on 3 December 2019 +++ Over 250 people drowned +++ Responsible Italian officers stand accused +++ Today the situation in the Mediterranean is even worse! +++ Stop the Death at Sea!
The shipwreck on the 3rd of October 2013 near Lampedusa with over 360 fatalities has remained in our collective memory but much less so the shipwreck that occurred only eight days later. On the 11th of October 2013, over 250 died at sea. Many women, men and children drowned, even though the Italian and Maltese coastguard had been alerted several times to the impending disaster.
From the boat in severe distress, a Syrian doctor pleaded desperately via satellite phone for rescue, but the authorities did not react adequately to his SOS calls. Instead, and over hours, the Italian and Maltese authorities argued over whose responsibility it would be to rescue. When rescue vessels arrived five hours later, the boat had already capsized and many people had already drowned.
Six years later, this case of a deliberately delayed rescue operation will be examined before a criminal court in Rome. Several officers of the Italian coastguard and the navy stand accused. Besides the delay in coordinating rescue, an Italian navy vessel had been in the vicinity of the drama but failed to intervene. Several of the survivors, who lost family members, have joined the legal action. They hope that this injustice and deadly act of non-assistance will not remain unpunished.
The shameful delays in rescue in 2013 were an incentive for the creation of the Alarm Phone project. The WatchTheMed monitoring platform was involved in the reconstruction of this case of non-assistance and conducted several interviews with survivors. Exactly one year later, on the anniversary of the deadly shipwreck, the WatchTheMed Alarm Phone was launched on 11 October 2014, a hotline for real-time interventions in support of those in distress at sea.
The Alarm Phone has now existed for over five years and has supported about 3,000 boats in distress on all the routes in the Mediterranean Sea. During the past weeks and months, our emergency number has been dialed particularly often from the Central Mediterranean Sea.
We received distress calls, again and again, from exactly the area near Lampedusa and Malta where all these people died on 11 October 2013. Much has changed since and we can clearly state that today the behaviour of both Italian and Maltese coastguards is even worse than in 2013. Today, distress calls are often entirely ignored, delays in rescue operations are everyday phenomena, and we could even document a pull-back to Libya by the so-called Libyan coastguards from within the Maltese SAR zone.
Death at sea, deliberate delays in rescue and illegal push-backs of refugees and migrants to the hell of Libyan torture-camps are not natural phenomena. All this violence and suffering is human-made, executed by officers and authorities, backed up by national and European policies of deterrence and systematic human rights violations. This violence and suffering could end today.
We hope that the beginning of the trial against Italian authorities will give some redress to the survivors, even though we know that nothing can bring back their loved ones.
We also hope that this trial can shed light on the ongoing, daily, and criminal acts of non-assistance in the Mediterranean, and the brutality of the EU border regime.
This trial of a past case of non-assistance should be a signal to all those who fail to assist in cases of distress today, those who hold responsibility for the ongoing mass dying in the Mediterranean.