An Italian navy vessel nears an overcrowded boat of migrants that capsized off Libya on 25 May 2016. Photo: Marina Militare / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

By Anna Momigliano
9 May 2017

MILAN (The Washington Post) – Almost four years ago, 268 Syrian refugees — including 60 children — lost their lives in a shipwreck about 60 miles south of Lampedusa, a small Italian island that sits between Sicily and Tunisia. It was considered one of the worst tragedies of the European refugee crisis, but a leaked audiotape published Monday by the magazine L’Espresso suggested that Italian authorities let the Syrians drown despite being alerted several hours earlier that the refugees’ ship was in danger.

On the evening of Oct. 10, 2013, a ship carrying at least 480 people left Zuwarah, in northwestern Libya, headed for Lampedusa. Most of the passengers were Syrians who had left their country for Libya when conflict erupted at home in 2011, and were then forced to flee Libya when fighting broke out there as well.

Their ship sailed until 5 p.m. the next day, when it capsized 61 nautical miles south of Lampedusa. While some of the passengers were rescued by Italian and Maltese ships, the majority died before rescuers arrived. The incident caused a media uproar that contributed to the creation of “Mare Nostrum,” the now-defunct Italian navy search-and-rescue operation (that program was replaced in late 2014 by a smaller-scale E.U. program called “Triton”).

But, until Monday, the public did not know that the refugees had alerted Italian authorities that they were in distress as early as five hours before their ship sank. Even though the refugees’ ship called the Italian coast guard and warned that it was floating adrift, taking on water and had wounded children aboard, Italian authorities refused to intervene for several hours.

L’Espresso published five recordings of separate telephone conversations from the day of the incident. In the first, 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. […]

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.” [more]

Italian forces ignored a sinking ship full of Syrian refugees and let more than 250 drown, says leaked audio

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