The Malta Independent 15 August 2022, Monday

Lampedusa tragedy: TMI and L’Espresso questions unanswered

Malta Independent Monday, 16 December 2013, 10:24 Last update: about 9 years ago

The Armed Forces of Malta yesterday categorically denied what it said was ‘insinuated’ in The Malta Independent on Sunday’s front page story, which asked if Malta tried to act alone in rescuing Syrian migrants on a sinking boat near Lampedusa.

Sources said the Maltese government could have asked for help from a number of nearby vessels but, for some reason, had waited for a Maltese patrol boat to reach the area. Before it got there, the migrant boat capsized and 270 people lost their lives.

In a statement the AFM said; “The Armed Forces of Malta categorically denies what the Article entitled ‘Lampedusa tragedy - a case of political bravado gone wrong?’ published on the front page of the Malta Independent on Sunday 15th December, is insinuating. The Armed Forces of Malta in the October 11th tragedy acted as according to international laws and  to long established procedures . The Armed Forces of Malta's sequence of events is substantiated by documentation.” However, no documentation has been released by the AFM.

The Malta Independent on Sunday yesterday quoted sources saying that the events that took place on October 11 seemed to show that Malta took the riskiest option by not sending nearby vessels to the migrants’ rescue and relied instead on sending an AFM patrol boat from 230 kilometres away. The sources asked whether the Maltese government had tried to save the migrants without help from other countries.

Documents and eyewitness accounts show that there were several nearby vessels that could have been sent to the rescue, but for unknown reasons were not. Two merchant ships, one Italian Navy warship, five Guardia Costiera launches, two Guardia di Finanza patrol boats and a number of fishing vessels were in the area. For some reason they were not called to intercept the migrant boat until after it boat capsized and sank at around 5.10pm. The Maltese patrol boat was first on site, at 5.51pm. The AFM and the Italians saved 200 people, but it is estimated that around 270 others perished.


Questions that remain unanswered

This paper sent questions to the Armed Forces of Malta and the Home Affairs Ministry early last week. It was indicated that any replies would be coming through the AFM but when the Armed Forces finally replied on Thursday they said that they would not comment further to what was said on the day of the incident. The same thing happened to Italian journalist Fabrizio Gatti, who first reported on what happened on October 13 in L’Espresso.

Last week this paper asked the Home Affairs Ministry and the Armed Forces of Malta if there really was a dispute between Malta and Italy as to who was responsible to rescue the migrants. Was it true that time was wasted over bickering by politicians? Why were the migrants told at 3pm that help would arrive in 45 minutes, when in actual fact the first patrol boat arrived at 5.51pm? Did the Maltese patrol boat leave base immediately at 1pm? (the time when RCC Malta was informed of the migrant boat and took charge of the operation.) And why were the vessels stationed in Lampedusa not dispatched?

Mr Fabrizio Gatti also sent a number of important questions that were met with the same “no further comment.” The Italian journalist asked “why was the Italian warship ITS Libra not dispatched, when it was so close to the migrant boat? Was it because of political pressure? Why were vessels in Lampedusa not sent, as happened so many times before? At what time was the Maltese aircraft dispatched? What happened between 1pm, when Malta took over the operation, and 4pm, when the plane arrived on site?” It seems that, for now, these questions will remain unanswered.


Libyan Navy is cooperating - PM


Prime Minister Joseph Muscat also spoke on migration during a One Radio show yesterday. “We would not be where we are today if we had not stamped our feet. We made a lot of noise but we gathered strong support from 15 other EU member states. This led to a task force that came out with 38 proposals for the European Commission. This is the first time that the Commission has committed itself with concrete proposals.”

Dr Muscat said that the EU will help Malta send back migrants who are not eligible for migration and the government will also keep insisting that Libya do its part.

“For the first time Libya has started sending illegal migrants back, and also for the first time Libya has intercepted migrants in its territorial waters and sent them back. Italy is also training Libyan soldiers. I cannot say that next summer will not be a problem however, we will be more prepared than ever before.”

Dr Muscat said that the he spoke to the Greek government yesterday and discussed the implementation of these measures. “This is the difference between us and the PN. Simon Busuttil used to claim in the European Parliament that the migration problem had been solved but nothing was achieved by the previous government. The PN was more interested in shaming Malta in the EU institutions.”

Dr Muscat mentioned a particular case when Malta was being criticized on an EU level. The international media had printed photos of migrants dangling on tuna pens. “I saw this as an attack on the country and I did everything to defend my country. But Simon Busuttil only defends Malta when the PN is in government.”

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