Survivors of the February 26 shipwreck off Steccato di Cutro in the southern Calabria region and a 17-year-old Pakistani national accused of smuggling have appeared in court.
Survivors of the Cutro shipwreck attended a court hearing on Friday (March 17) in the Calabrian city of Catanzaro. Also present was a young Pakistani national who is under investigation as an alleged crew member of the migrant boat that became shipwrecked on February 26, resulting in the deaths of at least 87 people.
The teenager and other survivors appeared before a preliminary investigations judge of the Juvenile Court of Catanzaro. According to the suspect's attorney, survivors gave accounts favorable to his young client.
The lawyer, Salvatore Perri, said at the end of the hearing that survivors did not identify his client as an alleged smuggler. "They recognized the boy as one of the Pakistanis who travelled with them, adding that he helped people find a seat, go on deck, by translating or physically [helping them], which is what my client has said all along," he continued.
Investigations into rescue operations
Rescue operations were also discussed during the hearing. Prosecutors in Crotone, the city nearest to Steccato di Cutro, have opened two investigations into rescue operations and the alleged adult smugglers.
The issue of rescue operations was introduced by the lawyers assisting victims' families. In particular, a Syrian survivor, F. A., who lost a six-year-old nephew and other relatives, testified in a "particularly dramatic deposition," commented lawyer Francesco Verri.
The attorney said that A. spoke about the fact that "he and his nephews remained in the water for three hours" after the boat ran aground and broke up.
"He stressed again in court how the child froze to death after an hour and rescuers arrived after another two hours with a coast guard vessel. Three hours were lost and this has now become a fact that is going to be part of the trial," he added.
This issue is considered relevant by the lawyer, who has already announced that he will be sending court papers to prosecutors in Crotone so they can use them "for the investigation on rescue operations."
A. said that shortly before the boat ran aground, Turkish smugglers went below deck to inform the migrants that they would be arriving shortly and that they were running at full throttle, breaking the lever to avoid decelerating.
'I knew Italy protects,' Pakistani migrant
A Pakistani citizen also discussed rescue operations when testifying in court. He told the Catanzaro Juvenile Court's preliminary investigations judge Donatella Garcea that he "knew Italy protects."
The survivor told the judge that smugglers had told him the refugees and migrants on board the boat, which had sailed from Turkey four days before, would be rescued once they arrived in Italian waters. The survivor then said that, once he reached shore, he saw only two Carabinieri police officers and a fisherman.
The pre-trial hearing to gather evidence was to continue until Tuesday, March 21, with a total of six survivors to be heard. Another pre-trial hearing requested by the State attorney's office in Crotone had not yet been scheduled.
Before the hearing can be set, a 28-year-old Turkish man who is under investigation as a suspected smuggler must be extradited from Austria, where he travelled after the shipwreck. He was arrested there on March 8. Once he is in Italy, he will be notified about the request for a pre-trial hearing, which will then be scheduled.