Italy “did not protect the right to life” of more than 200 people who were on board a ship that was wrecked in the Mediterranean Sea in 2013, as indicated by the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations (UN).
Italy took five hours to rescue a shipwreck that killed 268 people in 2013
The Committee notes that, as a result of the delay in action, more than 200 migrants died, including 60 minors. The decision Published this Wednesday by the agency, part of a joint complaint filed by three Syrian citizens and a Palestinian citizen who survived the tragedy, but lost their families.
The Committee says Italy “did not respond quickly to several calls for help from the sinking ship, which was carrying more than 400 adults and children.” In addition, it specifies that “it did not explain the delay in the dispatch of its navy ship, the ITS Libra, which was only one hour from the area.”
Desperate calls for hours
According to the Committee’s reconstruction of the facts, the vessel left Zuwarah, a Libyan fishing port, after midnight on 10 October 2013, and the large crew were mostly people fleeing Syria. They sailed around 1 a.m. A few hours later, the boat began to flood after being shot by a Berber-flagged ship in international waters, when it was 113 kilometers south of the Italian island of Lampedusa and 218 kilometers south of Malta.
One of the occupants called the Italian number for emergencies at sea, saying that they were sinking and sending the ship’s coordinates. He called again several times in the following hours and, after 1:00 p.m., he was notified that, as they were in the search and rescue area of Malta, the Italian authorities had forwarded his call for help to the Maltese authorities. Despite the emergency, they only transmitted the phone number of the Malta Rescue Coordination Center.
The occupants repeatedly called, increasingly desperate, between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm, the Maltese authorities. When a Maltese patrol boat arrived at the scene more than two hours later, at 5:50 p.m., the boat had already capsized. In response to Malta’s urgent request, Italy finally ordered its navy ship ITS Libra, which was in the immediate vicinity, to come to the rescue after 6:00 p.m.
The Committee requests an investigation of the facts
“The international law of the sea requires States parties to take measures to protect the lives of all persons who are in a dangerous situation at sea,” said Hélène Tigroudja, a member of the Committee, in a statement.
As he explains, it is a complex case: the shipwreck occurred in international waters within the Malta search and rescue zone, but the location closer to Italy and one of its military vessels.
“Italy’s delay had a direct impact on the loss of hundreds of lives,” says Tigroudja. “If the Italian authorities had immediately dispatched their warship and their Coast Guard boats following the distress calls, the rescue would have reached the ship no later than two hours before it sank.”
The United Nations body urges Italy to carry out an independent and timely investigation to prosecute those responsible. In addition, they continue, both Italy and the other countries involved in the tragedy, “must offer effective reparation to those who lost their families” in the shipwreck. The Committee rejected a parallel claim brought against Malta because the claimants did not take legal action before the Maltese courts, which is one of the requirements, before presenting their case to the body.