Coffins of children are pictured among coffins of victims in a hangar of Lampedusa airport on October 5, 2013, after a boat with migrants sank killing more than a hundred people 
 | Photo: ANSA /LANNINO
Coffins of children are pictured among coffins of victims in a hangar of Lampedusa airport on October 5, 2013, after a boat with migrants sank killing more than a hundred people | Photo: ANSA /LANNINO

Charges against two navy officers in a case involving the death of 268 migrants, including 60 children, off Lampedusa nine years ago have timed out under the statute of limitations. Prosecutors had requested their acquittal.

On October 11, 2013, 268 people -- including 60 children -- died off the Italian island of Lampedusa. They were on board a migrant boat carrying between 300 and 400 people, according to survivors' accounts.

Nine years later, a trial into the so-called 'children's shipwreck' against two top naval officers ended on Friday (December 2) after the charges of manslaughter and refusal to provide official documents timed out under the statute of limitations.

The officials are Leopoldo Manna and Luca Licciardi, who were at the time respectively the head of the coast guard's operation center and the commander of the navy's operational room.

Extinction of criminal liability

A criminal court in Rome last Friday ruled that the criminal liability of the two officers had clocked out under the statute of limitations. Prosecutors had nevertheless asked for their acquittal in October on the grounds that there was "no case to answer".

Manna and Licciardi had been charged with manslaughter and refusal to submit official documents as part of an investigation into an alleged delay in rescue operations.

In 2017, prosecutors had requested for the case to be shelved but the motion had been rejected by a preliminary investigations judge (GIP).

The two officers were accused of an alleged 45-minute-long delay in the decision to ask for the intervention of Italian navy vessel Libra, which was close to the area of the shipwreck.

Survivors said at the time that they had repeatedly called coast guards but "Italian authorities were convinced" that the area was under Malta's jurisdiction.

According to magistrates at Rome's tribunal, Maltese authorities -- who had originally taken responsibility for the rescue operations -- requested the intervention of their Italian counterparts at 4:22 pm. The boat capsized at 5:07 pm.

Officers respected procedures, according to prosecutors

Prosecutors in Rome on October 4 requested the acquittal of Manna and Licciardi. In their request, state attorneys said the defendants did "not want the migrants to die". There was "no malice", prosecutors said.

"Procedures, though complex at the time, were respected" and the "two officers did not lose interest and carried out the correct procedures at the time," according to the prosecution.

According to testimony provided by the victims' families, the fishing vessel at the time of the shipwreck was located some 50 nautical miles south of Lampedusa and about 180 miles from Malta. It capsized after taking in water. It had previously been attacked by a Libyan cutter which fired several machine gun shots.

Mohanad Jammo, a Syrian anesthesiologist who lost two children in the shipwreck, a five-year-old and a nine-month-old, remembered in his testimony the floating bodies of some children, while others held out their hands while asking for help."

"The modality in which the shipwreck occurred did not allow to establish an official toll, there is a deficit of knowledge on the number of deaths, on the causes and on the traceability of the alleged delay. The Libra ship could not have arrived sooner," explained prosecutors at a hearing on October 4, two months before the statute of limitations kicked in.

 

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