Lethal shipwreck: The way it occurred, and unanswered questions


STECCATO DI CUTRO, Italy — “Italy right here we come!” cheered the younger males, in Urdu and Pashto, as they filmed themselves standing on a ship crusing in shiny blue waters.

They have been amongst round 180 migrants — Afghans, Pakistanis, Syrians, Iranians, Palestinians, Somalis and others — who left Turkey hoping for a greater, or just safer, life in Europe.

Days later, dozens of them have been useless. Thus far, 70 our bodies have been recovered from the Feb. 26 shipwreck close to the small seashore city of Steccato di Cutro, however solely 80 survivors have been discovered, indicating that the dying toll was larger. On Sunday, firefighter divers noticed an additional physique within the Ionian Sea and have been working to carry it ashore, state TV stated.

The tragedy has highlighted the lesser-known migration route from Turkey to Italy. It additionally introduced into focus hardening Italian and European migration insurance policies, which have since 2015 shifted away from search and rescue, prioritizing as an alternative border surveillance. Questions are additionally being requested of the Italian authorities about why the coast guard wasn’t deployed till it was too late.

Based mostly on court docket paperwork, testimony from survivors and kinfolk and statements by authorities, the AP has reconstructed what is thought of the occasions that led to the shipwreck and the questions left unanswered.

Within the early hours of Wednesday, Feb. 22, the migrants — together with dozens of households with babies — boarded a leisure boat on a seashore close to Izmir following a truck journey from Istanbul and a forest crossing by foot.

They set out from the shore. However simply three hours into their voyage, the vessel suffered an engine failure. Nonetheless in excessive seas, an previous wood gulet — a conventional Turkish model of boat — arrived as a alternative.

The smugglers and their assistants informed the migrants to cover beneath deck as they continued on their journey west. With out life vests or seats, they crammed on the ground, going out for air, or to alleviate themselves, solely briefly. Survivors stated the second boat additionally had engine issues, stopping a number of instances alongside the way in which.

Three days later, on Saturday, Feb. 25, at 10:26 p.m. a European Union Border and Coast Guard aircraft patrolling the Ionian sea noticed a ship heading towards the Italian coast. The company, generally known as Frontex, stated the vessel “confirmed no indicators of misery” and was navigating at 6 knots, with “good” buoyancy.

Frontex despatched an e mail to Italian authorities at 11:03 p.m. reporting one individual on the higher deck and presumably extra folks beneath, detected by thermal cameras. No lifejackets might be seen. The e-mail additionally talked about {that a} satellite tv for pc cellphone name had been produced from the boat to Turkey.

In response to the Frontex sighting, the case was categorised as an “exercise of the maritime police”. Italy’s Guardia di Finanza, or monetary police, which additionally has a border and customs position, dispatched two patrols to “intercept the vessel.”

Because the Turkish boat approached Italy’s Calabrian coast on Saturday night, a few of the migrants on the boat have been allowed to message household, to tell them of their imminent arrival and launch the 8,000-euro payment that had been agreed upon with the smugglers.

The lads navigating the boat informed the anxious passengers they wanted to attend a number of extra hours for disembarkation, to keep away from getting caught, in response to survivors’ testimony to investigators.

At 3:48 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26, the monetary police vessels returned to base, with out having reached the boat on account of dangerous climate. The police contacted the coast guard to ask if they’d any vessels out at sea “in case there was a important scenario” in response to communication obtained by the Italian ANSA company and confirmed by AP. The coast guard replied they didn’t. “OK, it was simply to tell you,” a police officer stated earlier than hanging up.

Simply minutes later, at round 4 a.m., native fishermen on Italy’s southern coast noticed lights within the darkness. Individuals have been waving their mobile phone flashlights desperately from atop a ship caught on a sand financial institution.

The suspected smugglers grabbed black tubes, presumably life jackets, and jumped into the water to avoid wasting themselves, in response to survivors. Waves continued smashing into the vessel till it out of the blue ripped aside. The sound was much like that of an explosion, survivors stated. Individuals fell into the frigid water, making an attempt to seize onto something they might. Many couldn’t swim.

Italian police arrived on the scene at 4:30 a.m., the identical time that the coast guard says it obtained the primary emergency calls associated to the boat. It took the coast guard one other hour to get there. By then, our bodies have been already being pulled out of the water with folks screaming for assist whereas others tried to resuscitate the victims.

There have been dozens of younger youngsters on board the boat. Virtually none survived. The physique of a 3-year-old was recovered Saturday.

Amongst those that lived was a Syrian father and his eldest little one, however his spouse and three different youngsters didn’t. The physique of his youngest, age 5, was nonetheless lacking 4 days later.

One Afghan man drove down from Germany, looking for his 15-year-old nephew who had contacted household saying he was in Italy. However the boy additionally died earlier than setting foot on land.

The uncle requested that his identify, and that of his nephew not be revealed as he had but to tell the boy’s father.

The infant-faced teenager had shared a video together with his household throughout his sea voyage, with apparently good climate.

His mom had died two years in the past, and with the return of the Taliban to energy, the household fled to Iran. The boy later continued to Turkey from the place he tried a number of instances to cross into the EU.

“Europe is the one place the place a minimum of you may be revered as a human being,” he stated. “Everybody is aware of that it’s 100% harmful, however they gamble with their lives as a result of they know in the event that they make it they could have the ability to stay.”

Prosecutors have launched two investigations — one into the suspected smugglers and one other taking a look at whether or not there have been delays by Italian authorities in responding to the migrant boat.

A Turkish man and two Pakistani males, among the many 80 survivors, have been detained, suspected of being smugglers or their accomplices. A fourth suspect, a Turkish nationwide, is on the run.

Specific consideration has been centered on why the coast guard was by no means despatched to verify on the boat.

A day after the shipwreck, Frontex informed AP it had noticed a “closely overcrowded” boat and reported it to Italian authorities. In a second assertion, although, Frontex clarified that just one individual had been seen on deck however that its thermal cameras — “and different indicators” — indicated there might be extra folks beneath.

In an interview with AP, retired coast guard admiral Vittorio Alessandro stated the coast guard’s boats are made to resist tough seas and that they need to have gone out. “If to not rescue, a minimum of to verify whether or not the boat wanted any help.”

Alessandro added that the photographs launched by Frontex confirmed the water stage was excessive, suggesting the boat was heavy.

The coast guard stated Frontex alerted Italian authorities in control of “legislation enforcement,” copying the Italian Coast Guard “for his or her consciousness” solely. Frontex stated it’s as much as nationwide authorities to categorise occasions as search and rescue.

“The problem is easy in its tragic nature: No emergency communication from Frontex reached our authorities. We weren’t warned that this boat was at risk of sinking,” Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni stated on Saturday.

“I ponder if there’s anybody on this nation who truthfully believes that the federal government intentionally let over 60 folks die, together with some youngsters,” she added.

Alessandro, nevertheless, lamented how over time the coast guard’s actions — which beforehand occurred even far out in worldwide waters — have been progressively curtailed by successive governments.

“Rescue operations at sea shouldn’t be changed by police operations. Rescue should prevail,” he stated.

In an interview with AP, Eugenio Ambrosi, chief of employees on the U.N.’s Worldwide Group for Migration, confused the necessity for a extra proactive search and rescue technique, on a European stage.

“We are able to look and debate whether or not the (boat) was noticed, not noticed, whether or not the authorities have been known as and didn’t reply,” he stated. “However we wouldn’t be asking this query if there was a mechanism of search and rescue within the Mediterranean.”

Brito reported from Barcelona, Spain. AP journalists Trisha Thomas and Frances D’Emilio in Rome, Colleen Barry in Milan and Ahmad Seir in Amsterdam, additionally contributed to this report.

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