A Rome preliminary investigations judge rejected the request for an investigation into the October 11, 2013 shipwreck of a boat carrying Syrian refugees to be shelved. Around 300 people, including about 60 children, drowned. Two top navy and coast guard officers have been charged.
There was a "gap" of 30-40 minutes in the decision to save passengers on a migrant boat carrying Syrian refugees that capsized in Maltese waters off Lampedusa on October 11, 2013. That gap may have proven critical as 300 people died after the boat tipped over, 60 of whom were children. Judge Giovanni Giorgianni rejected the prosecution’s request to shelve the investigation and ordered two top officers to be charged. Giorgianni charged navy officer Luca Lucciardi, who coordinated the Libra military vessel, and Leopoldo Manna, who was in charge of the coast guard operations center. Giorgianni charged the two with refusal to perform their duties, as well as manslaughter for "deliberately delaying" the rescue operation by the Italian vessel.
Maltese authorities allegedly notified Italy of the migrant boat
The judge claims the Maltese authorities, who initially took responsibility for the rescue, told their Italian counterparts at 4:22 pm (1522 UTC) that the Libra needed to intervene since it was closer to the migrant boat. An "extrema ratio" or “last possibility” changed the legal picture of the case and made immediate intervention by the military vessel necessary. In addition to the charges to Lucciardi and Manna, the judge gave prosecutors six months to further investigate another suspect, Libra captain Catia Pellegrino. Pellegrino was previously awarded the Officer Order of Merit of the Italian Republic for coordinating numerous rescue operations at sea.
A Maltese pilot who flew over the area where the boat was in distress said he called the Libra several times to inform the ship of the extreme situation, but did not receive a reply. Pellegrino says she received no such calls - hence the need to reconstruct what happened. Charges have been dropped against Filippo Maria Foffi, former Head of Fleet Command of the Italian Navy, officer Nicola Giannotta and coast guard officials Clarissa Torturro and Antonio Miniero. The investigations against these four people have been closed.
Shelving opposed by Syrian doctor who survived shipwreck
Syrian doctor Mohamad Jammo, who survived the harrowing ordeal, opposed closing the investigation. Jammo lost his two sons in the tragedy. "Our clients saw their children drown in that shipwreck. Today at least their confidence in Italian justice has been restored," said lawyers Alessandra Ballerini and Emiliano Benzi, who are representing Jammo and the families of some of the victims.
"It was terrible that Italian justice could not be brought to bear on such a serious occurrence and for the families of the dead," said L'Espresso journalist Fabrizio Gatti who has reported extensively on the tragedy.
President of the Italian Coalition for Liberties and Civil Rights Patrizio Gonnella has expressed the hope for a "trial in which all the witnesses can be heard and documents obtained in order to establish the responsibility for this massacre."