Tuesday, 17 September 2019, 13:30 Last update: about 16 minutes ago
Two Italian coast guard and navy officers have been charged over the infamous 11 October 2013 tragedy, in which over 260 migrants lost their lives. Their trial starts on 3 December.
The incident had been covered extensively by The Malta Independent, which had found that Italy and Malta had passed the back and only despatched rescue vessels after the migrant boat capsized.
Leopoldo Manna, the official who was in charge of the Coast Guards’ operations centre, and Luca Licciardi, the head of the Navy’s operations centre, have been charged with the manslaughter of 268 people, including 60 children.
The migrants on board the fishing trawler had pleaded with both Malta and Italy to send help after the vessel started taking in water after being shot at by Libyan coast guard officials.
Dr Mohammad Jammo, one of the survivors of the tragedy, but whose sons was less fortunate, had described what happened on that fateful day. In an interview given to L’Espresso, he had said he made contact with Italy and Malta after the vessel was shot at by Libyan coast guard and started taking in water.
The Italian authorities were contacted in the morning but did not act. They later told Jammo to call Malta, since the vessel had left Italian territory.
Malta then reportedly told those on board that help would be with them in less than an hour.
An investigation by The Malta Independent on Sunday had found that, after it was handed control of the situation, Malta had six options at its disposal. These included sending the ITS Libra – an Italian navy vessel that was only 26 miles away to the rescue. The vessel, however, remained on standby and was only despatched after the migrant boat capsized.
There were also a number of merchant ships in the vicinity and at least five fast rescue boats anchored in Lampedusa. In the end, Malta chose to send the P61 patrol boat, which was farthest away. The Maltese vessel arrived on scene after the tragedy had unfolded, as did the Libra.
In the end, Malta and Italy saved 203 people. 32 bodies were recovered and about 260 others remain missing at sea.
The trial, which starts on 3 December, will seek to establish once and for all who was responsible for the migrant deaths. The process to bring charges against the two Italian officials has been ongoing for almost two years.
The accused, Manna and Licciardi, say they acted on the basis of assurance that Malta would send a plane and a patrol boat, but also argue that the migrants only came into danger when their boat turned turtle.
But the judge presiding over the process was not convinced, saying that their failure to comply with Malta’s requests to dispatch the Libra immediately was “unjustifiable.”
The judge noted that the Italian vessel could have reached the scene a full two hours before the migrant boat capsized. But that order was only given after tragedy struck.
Arturo Saleni, the lawyer representing the victims, said “no trial is ever going to bring the dead back to life. But for the families, reconstructing those terrible hours in which the boat took in water and their calls went unanswered is a form of justice.”
The victim’s families hope to see punishment for the two accused and reparations for their loss.
Lawyer Luca Ciaglia, who is defending Manna, described the shipwreck as a “huge tragedy.”
He insisted that Malta was responsible to carry out the rescue because it was in charge of rescue operations at the time. “We maintain that Malta made mistakes and sent wrong and contradictory communications to Italy,” he said.
“It made it impossible for Italian authorities to assess how dangerous the situation was. Italian authorities did what they were asked to do by the Maltese.”
The lawyer also pointed out that Malta is not seeking to establish whether any of its officials were responsible for the tragedy.