NEWS | Sunday, 07 October 2007

AFM finally switch on voice recording system

Karl Schembri

After years in disuse, the Armed Forces of Malta’s message recording equipment has finally been switched on, keeping track of the orders and communications radioed to army units.
But not all orders are being tracked – according to an army spokesman, “some radio and telephone systems are not yet being recorded”.
The same spokesman said “this is due mainly to technical reasons”, without specifying further when asked by MaltaToday.
In April last year, this newspaper revealed that the sophisticated equipment donated by the US government more than six years ago was never put into operation, making it very difficult to get a clear trail of the chain of command in operations under investigation.
The equipment would have been invaluable in inquiries such as the infamous immigrant beatings by AFM soldiers in the Safi detention centre two years ago.
The army’s failure to use the equipment also meant that there is no record, besides the handwritten log book entries, of the orders given to army rescue units that were told to “keep at a distance” from a boat of immigrants in stormy seas in 2005.
Now, the AFM says that it “operates a robust and reliable phone and radio voice recording system”.
While stating that the details remain “classified information” that will not be released as it is a “national security issue”, the army spokesman added that “at present, the various systems functioning are already partly recorded”.
Parts of the classified log book leaked to MaltaToday and published two years ago revealed that the captain of an AFM airplane and the master of a patrol boat were ordered to “keep at a distance” from a boat carrying 200 immigrants on 17 November 2005, as they were passing through Maltese waters heading towards Sicily in force 6 winds. Twenty-nine of them died hours later when they shipwrecked off Ragusa, Sicily.
The entries also show that one of the patrol boats on that mission, the Melita 1, had reported it was running out of fuel just four hours after leaving base – a claim now explained by the Prime Minister’s chief spokesman as “fully justified”.

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