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Italy allowed hundreds of refugees to drown

Refugees are seen after the arrival of the Coast Guard ship "Bruno Gregoretti" at Naples harbour on October 23, 2016 [Alessio Paduano/Anadolu]
Refugees are seen after the arrival of the Coast Guard ship "Bruno Gregoretti" at Naples harbour on October 23, 2016 [Alessio Paduano/Anadolu]

Italian authorities allowed hundreds of Syrian refugees to drown despite being told their boat was in danger, new audio tapes suggest.

Some 268 refugees, including 60 children, drowned in 2013, after their boat capsized while sailing to Italy from Libya. The incident was one of the worst tragedies in the ongoing refugee crises; over 5,000 refugees are thought to have drowned in the Mediterranean.

However, new audio tapes suggest that the incident on 10 October 2013 could have been avoided if Italian authorities responded to the distress calls made five hours before the boat carrying 480 people capsized.

The leaked audio conversation published by the Italian magazine  L'Espresso earlier this week reveal that the Italian coastguard was told that the boat was in danger of capsizing almost five hours before it sank, but that officials refused assistance and told the crew that they should try to reach Malta.

Sinking

But at the time, reported the Washington Post, 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.

A fourth tape shows that Maltese authorities were willing to take command of the rescue mission but asked their Italian counterparts to send their nearby vessel. The Italians refused telling the Maltese navy that Italy would not move the ship because it "represents an important asset in order to spot new targets" — and because that would put Italy "in charge of transfer to the nearest coast".

The initial request for help from the Italian coastguard was made at 12:39. Four separate conversations took place with the Italian coastguard but they only agreed to send help at 17:07 after a Maltese surveillance plane spotted the sinking boat.

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AfricaEurope & RussiaItalyLibyaMiddle EastNewsSyria
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