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Sea rescue ‘delays’ should be probed

A rapporteur of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly has called for an investigation into alleged delays in a sea rescue operation when up to 200 migrants were feared dead.

On October 11, a boat full of Syrians and Palestinians capsized after taking in water 60 miles south of Lampedusa. More than 50 people died although up to 200 may have perished. The Armed Forces of Malta rescued 143 migrants and 56 were taken to the Italian island.

Survivors told Times of Malta they had called the Italian authorities on a satellite phone but no help appeared and about two hours later the Italian authorities told them to contact Malta because they were in Maltese waters.

Italian news magazine l’Espresso also reported that three calls were made to the Italian authorities and, after two hours, they were told to contact the Maltese authorities. It said that the death of 268 Syrians could have been avoided.

The magazine reported online last week that the well-equipped Italian navy ship Libra was a few miles away from the migrants. It said the Italian Coastguard passed on the distress call to Malta despite being closer to the shipwreck to “respect an agreement”.

It said that disagreement between Malta and Italy about search-and-rescue responsibilities, which had led to similar tragedies in the past, caused the delayed rescue.

Rapporteur Tineke Strik expressed shock, noting that failures she identified in an investigation following an accident in 2011, in which 63 migrants died when their distress calls were ignored, have been repeated.

“What particularly worries me are the alleged delays in going to the assistance of this boat.

“It would appear that these were caused by, firstly, a ping-pong disagreement between Italy and Malta over who should take responsibility for the rescue and, secondly, that the rescue signals sent out did not have the urgency needed to trigger immediate assistance,” she said.

These fresh revelations showed that, once again, ships were close by and could have gone to the rescue more quickly, Ms Strik said, adding that such issues needed further investigation.

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