19.01.2023

Joint press release by PRO ASYL, bor­der­lineeuro­pe and WatchTheMed/Alarm Pho­ne

Court of Rome ruling on the ship­w­reck of 11 Octo­ber 2013: Ita­li­an coast guard and navy are respon­si­ble for the death of 268 refu­gees due to fail­u­re to pro­vi­de assi­s­tance. The court con­firms once again: Peop­le in dis­tress at sea must always be res­cued from drowning!

The Court of Rome recent­ly ruled that the Ita­li­an coast guard and navy were guil­ty of mans­laugh­ter and negli­gence resul­ting in fail­u­re to res­cue, and were thus ruled respon­si­ble for the death of 268 refu­gees on the ship­w­reck that took place off Lam­pe­du­sa in 2013. Howe­ver, the three human rights orga­ni­sa­ti­ons PRO ASYL, bor­der­lineeuro­pe and WachTheMed/Alarm Pho­ne react with mixed fee­lings to this recent jud­ge­ment. The two peop­le accu­sed, Cap­tain Leo­poldo Man­na and Fri­ga­te
Cap­tain Luca Lic­ci­ar­di, were not con­vic­ted becau­se the case was timebar­red, as the tri­al was brought bey­ond the limi­ta­ti­ons peri­od.

The jud­ge­ment, which was issued on 16 Decem­ber 2022, promp­ted PRO ASYL, bor­der­lineeuro­pe and WatchTheMed/Alarm Pho­ne to assess: „Dis­tress calls at sea must be taken urgent­ly and res­cue ope­ra­ti­ons must be laun­ched without delay. This is the cen­tral mes­sa­ge of this lawsu­it, which is not only direc­ted at the Ita­li­an coast­guards but at all coast­guards and res­cue for­ces in the Medi­ter­ra­ne­an“. In addi­ti­on, it must now be exami­ned whe­ther the Ita­li­an sta­te can be obli­ged to pay com­pen­sa­ti­on to the vic­tims in a civil law pro­ce­du­re.

„It has taken more than nine years to reach a jud­ge­ment in this case of fail­u­re to pro­vi­de lifesaving assi­s­tance resul­ting in death. The accu­sed per­sons, who were found respon­si­ble, could not be held accoun­ta­ble becau­se of the timebar. This remains a bit­ter expe­ri­ence for the rela­ti­ves of the vic­tims,“ the three orga­ni­sa­ti­ons fur­ther empha­sise.

„Left to die“: Refusal to rescue at sea cost 268 lives

Back­ground: Eight days after the more wellknown tra­ge­dy that took place off Lam­pe­du­sa on 3 cto­ber 2013, ano­t­her acci­dent in the same area cau­sed the death by drow­ning of 268 refu­gees, inclu­ding 60 child­ren. On 11 Octo­ber 2013, a boat car­ry­ing more than 400 Syri­an and Pales­ti­ni­an peop­le com­ing from Libya went into dis­tress. The boat had pre­vious­ly been cha­sed and shot by a Liby­an speed­boat. Over a peri­od of five hours, the peop­le on the boat sent despe­ra­te dis­tress calls via a satel­li­te pho­ne to the coast guards in Ita­ly and Mal­ta. An Ita­li­an naval ves­sel only 17 nau­ti­cal miles away was deli­ber­ate­ly orde­red to not approach the sce­ne by the Ita­li­an Mari­ti­me Res­cue Ope­ra­ti­ons Cent­re.

The situa­ti­on could have been sal­va­ged if the Ita­li­an aut­ho­ri­ties had initia­ted the sea res­cue immedia­te­ly; this was also the con­clu­si­on of the Ita­li­an jour­na­list Fabri­zio Gat­ti, who­se rese­arch set the inves­ti­ga­ti­on and the years-long lawsu­it in moti­on. The jud­ge­ment of 16 Decem­ber 2022 empha­si­ses that the ship­w­reck could have been pre­ven­ted if tho­se respon­si­ble had ful­fil­led their duties and acted in accordance with inter­na­tio­nal law.

For five hours no help came for the drowning people

The jud­ges gave very detail­ed rea­sons for their jud­ge­ment, in an 87-page docu­ment, and traced the­de­tail­ed time­li­ne of the ship­w­reck. The Pre­si­dent of the Second Cri­mi­nal Cham­ber Anna Maria Pazi­en­za and the jud­ges Maria Con­cet­ta Gian­nit­ti and Chia­ra Boco­la con­clu­ded that the Ita­li­an Navy
and Coast Guard were guil­ty of wil­ful fail­u­re to res­cue. Their decisi­on not to inter­vene has led to the death of a gre­at num­ber of women, men and children.

„Our cli­ents, who saw their loved ones and their child­ren drown during the five hours at sea wai­t­ing in vain to be res­cued, have repeated­ly asked us to ensu­re that what hap­pen­ed does not hap­pen again. That is why they have taken on the torment of this long tri­al,“ said the lawy­ers of the sur­vi­vors who brought the action after the verdict.

Human lives at sea must always be saved

The lawy­ers added: „We can now hope that this jud­ge­ment will remind ever­yo­ne of the con­sti­tu­tio­nal and inter­na­tio­nal legal obli­ga­ti­ons incum­bent on tho­se who are acti­ve in sea res­cue. The Rome Cour­t’s judgment con­cerns not only the past, but also the pre­sent and the future: human lives at sea must always be res­cued and no order can sus­pend this ine­s­ca­pa­ble duty.“

For Ita­ly in par­ti­cu­lar, the new Ita­li­an government led by Gior­gia Melo­ni should stu­dy this jud­ge­ment care­ful­ly, and uncon­di­tio­nal­ly reco­gni­se its respon­si­bi­li­ty for sea res­cue. „We are cur­r­ent­ly wit­nessing how the acting Minis­ter of the Inte­rior, Matteo Pia­n­te­do­si, and the Minis­ter of  infra­st­ruc­tu­re, Matteo Sal­vi­ni, are once again try­ing to make civil res­cue ope­ra­ti­ons more dif­fi­cult with all pos­si­ble means, and are thus accep­t­ing an incre­a­sing num­ber of fata­li­ties,“ said the three orga­ni­sa­ti­ons PRO ASYL, borderline-europe and Alarm Phone.

For media inqui­ries, plea­se contact: 
PRO ASYL: Karl Kopp, presse@proasyl.de
borderline-europe: Judith Gleit­ze, italia@borderline-europe.de
WatchTheMed/Alarm Pho­ne: Hagen Kopp, media@alarmphone.org

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