Italian Navy Under Investigation for Failure to Act During 2013 Migrant Boat Sinking

Officers of Italy's Navy and Coast Guard are under investigation for their failure to rescue hundreds of migrants during a 2013 shipwreck near Lampedusa.

The investigation into the possible crimes of failure to rescue and manslaughter against seven officers and NCOs of the Italian Navy and Coast Guard is ongoing. The alleged crimes occurred on October 11, 2013, when a boat carrying hundreds of migrants sank off the coast of Lampedusa.

The Preliminary Investigative Judge (GIP), Giovanni Giorgianni, has ordered a new investigation into the actions of the crew of the Italian Navy ship Libra, and in particular its commander, Catia Pellegrino. The GIP also ordered the public prosecutor to consider charges against the Navy's operations commander, Luca Licciardi, and against the manager of the Coast Guard's operations center, Leopold Manna. The judge's decision was issued last Tuesday.

SOS calls

The migrants' fishing boat, which had previously been machine-gunned by a Libyan motorboat, sent out several desperate SOS signals. These distress calls were picked up by the Libra, and they now serve as evidence that the Italian vessel was aware of the emergency situation. The Libra was about 20 miles from the fishing boat at the time of the distress calls, although the migrants' boat was technically inside the Maltese Search and Rescue Area.

As noted by the GIP's order, Libra's commander had stated that on many occasions Italian ships had intervened in the Maltese search and rescue zone, an area too large and difficult to be patrolled by the Maltese Navy. Yet in this case, Libra did not even intervene when Malta explicitly requested them to do so through a fax sent to the ship. The communication noted the overloaded and unstable nature. of the migrants' boat, removing any doubt about the seriousness of the situation.

The migrant’s boat capsized after drifting - only a few miles from the Libra - for five hours. According to the Libra's communications log, the commanding officer of the Italian Navy's operation in the Mediterranean phoned the ship and ordered it to move farther away - in effect, to hide itself from the migrants' boat.

A total of 268 people, including 60 children, died when the boat capsized.

An avoidable tragedy

According to the GIP's order, "It is clear that an immediate order to proceed at the highest speed in the direction of the migrants' boat (like the one immediately following the news of its capsizing) issued immediately after the fax sent at 16:22 from Malta, would have allowed to the Libra ship to reach the point where the boat was, even before the boat capsized, or in any case in time to allow the devastating consequences to be contained as much as possible."

The judge did decide to drop the allegations against Coast Guard Officers Clarissa Torturro and Antonio Miniero and against the frigate captain Nicola Giannotta because, according to the GIP, they had dutifully executed orders under a highly hierarchical system.

The hope of lawyers Arturo Salerni and Mario Angelelli, who work for non-profit legal group Progetto Diritti and are defending some of the victims' family members, is that in the process will shed light on who is responsible for the deaths of more than 260 people, including 60 children.

The tragic story of the shipwreck has also been captured in Fabrizio Gatti's documentary 'A Unique Destiny: three fathers and the sinking that changed history', which presents new evidence on the clamorous delays in the rescue.