News | Sunday, 20 September 2009

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Migrants talk of botched Italian rescue that killed 15 of their friends

A number of migrants currently held in Malta after being rescued by an Italian coast guard vessel last year have shockingly revealed that another 15 of them who were on the same boat, met a violent death during their rescue when the ship’s captain allegedly made a wrong manoeuvre and tipped their boat.
The alleged incident happened on 10 June, 2008 when a boatload of migrants was intercepted by Italian coast guard vessel CP-904 ‘Fiorillo’ within Maltese controlled waters.
According to the migrants, when the ‘Fiorillo’ approached them, the captain veered alongside them and ordered a rope ladder to be dropped on its starboard side.
However, the heavy ladder came down hard on the migrants below, throwing many of them off their rickety boat, with the consequence that many were sucked underwater, drowning from the currents caused by the ship’s propellers that were left on.
The migrants who managed to be taken aboard were told their other companions were fine and were being held inside cabins.
While a home affairs ministry spokesman confirmed what the migrants are saying, he added that “this is the first time they have come up with such a version of events.”
The story told by the migrants in Malta will be the main focus of a story to be produced on Italian TV next Tuesday. Investigative journalist Luigi Pelazza from the intrepid ‘Le Iene’ team on Italia 1, flew to Malta two weeks ago to meet up with the surviving migrants and interviewed them.
Their story reportedly corroborates what the journalist had previously had in hand about the alleged tragedy. Pelazza received an anonymous letter, probably written by a crew member on board the ‘Fiorillo’ on the day of the botched rescue, who gave details about the events at sea.
The letter was also copied to magistrates in Messina, the homeport to the vessel. The letter alleges that soon after the botched rescue, the captain of the vessel had locked himself inside his cabin.
It is unclear if magistrates have initiated an investigation, given that territorial jurisdiction still has to be established. But the ship’s captain was traced in Taranto.
The captain was filmed by Le Iene being stopped by the journalist while on his way to the Coast Guard HQ. But he kept silent as he hurriedly returned home and barricaded himself inside for hours.

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