Deadly Shipwreck: How It Happened, and Unanswered Questions

STECCATO DI CUTRO (Italy): “Italy we have come!” cheered the youth in Urdu and Pashto as he filmed himself standing on a boat floating in bright blue water.
They were among about 180 migrants – Afghan, Pakistanis, Syrian, IraniPalestinians, Somalis and others – who left Turkey in the hope of a better, or simply safer, life in Europe.
Days later, dozens of them were dead. So far, 70 bodies have been recovered from the 26 February shipwreck near the small beach town of Staccato di Catro, but only 80 survivors, indicating that the death toll was higher, with some bodies of the victims in the Ionian Sea. Got lost.
The tragedy has exposed a lesser known migration route from Turkey to Italy.
It also took into account Italian and European migration policies, which have moved away from search and rescue since 2015, preferring border surveillance instead.
Questions are also being asked to the Italian government as to why the Coast Guard was not deployed until it was too late.
Based on court documents, testimony from survivors and relatives, and statements from officials, the AP reconstructs the events that lead to the shipwreck and questions left unanswered.

the fateful journey

In the early hours of Wednesday, February 22, migrants – including dozens of families with young children – boarded a leisure boat on a beach near Izmir after a truck journey from Istanbul and crossing jungle on foot.
They left the shore. But just three hours into their journey, the ship suffered engine failure. Still deep sea, an old wooden gulet – a traditional Turkish style of boat – arrived as a replacement.
The smugglers and their assistants told the emigrants to hide below deck as they continued their journey westward. Without life jackets or seats, they were huddled to the floor, passing out for air, or to relieve themselves, only briefly.
Survivors said that the second boat also had engine problems, stopped several times along the way.
Three days later, on Saturday, 25 February, at 10.26 p.m., an aircraft of the European Union Border and Coast Guard patrolling the Ionian Sea spotted a boat headed for the Italian coast.
The agency, known as Frontex, said the vessel “showed no signs of distress” and was navigating at 6 knots with “good” buoyancy.
Frontex sent an email to the Italian authorities at 11.03 pm reporting one person on the upper deck detected by thermal cameras and possibly more below. No lifejackets could be seen.
The email also mentions that a satellite phone call was made from the boat to Turkey.
In response to the Frontex sighting, the matter was classified as “an activity of the Marine Police”. Italy’s Guardia di Finanza, or financial police, which also has a border and customs role, sent two patrols to “intercept the ship”.
In form of Turkish boat Arriving off Italy’s Calabrian coast on Saturday evening, some migrants on the boat were allowed to pass messages to family, informing them of their impending arrival and releasing an 8,000-euro fee agreed with smugglers.
According to survivors’ testimony to investigators, the boat drivers told anxious passengers that they needed to wait a few more hours to disembark to avoid being caught.
At 3.48 a.m. on Sunday, February 26, the ships of the Financial Police returned to the base, without reaching the boat due to bad weather.
Police contacted the coast guard to ask if they had any ships at sea “in case there was a serious situation”, according to communications obtained by the Italian ANSA agency and confirmed by AP.
The Coast Guard replied that they did not. “Okay, that was just to inform you,” a police officer said before hanging up.
A few minutes later, at about 4 a.m., local fishermen off the southern coast of Italy saw the light in the dark. People waved their cell phone flashlights from the top of a boat stranded on a sandbank.
According to survivors, the suspected smugglers grabbed a black tube, possibly a life jacket, and jumped into the water to save themselves. Waves kept crashing into the ship until it suddenly broke apart. Survivors said that the sound was like an explosion. People fell into the cold water trying to grab anything. Many did not know how to swim.
Italian police arrived at the scene at 4.30 a.m., the same time the coast guard says it received the first emergency call related to the boat. It took another hour for the Coast Guard to reach there.
By then bodies had already been pulled out of the water and people were shouting for help while others tried to rescue the victims.

young victims

Dozens of small children were aboard the boat. Almost none survived. The body of a three-year-old innocent was recovered on Saturday.
Among the occupants were a Syrian father and his eldest child, but not his wife and three other children. His youngest 5-year-old’s body was still missing after four days.
An Afghan man drove from Germany in search of his 15-year-old nephew, who had contacted the family, saying he was in Italy. But the boy also died before setting foot on the ground.
The uncle asked that his and his nephew’s names not be published because they have not yet informed the boy’s father.
The baby-faced teen had shared a video with his family during their sea trip which apparently had nice weather.
His mother had died two years earlier, and with the return of the Taliban to power, the family fled to Iran. The boy later moved to Turkey from where he tried several times to enter the European Union.
“Europe is the only place where at least you can be respected as a human being,” he said. Everyone knows it’s 100% dangerous, but they mess with their lives because they know they might be able to live if they do it.


Prosecutors have launched two investigations – one into the suspected smugglers and another looking into whether there was a delay by Italian authorities in responding to the migrant boat.
Of the 80 survivors, a Turkish man and two Pakistani men have been detained on suspicion of being smugglers or their accomplices. The fourth suspect, a Turkish national, is on the run.
Special attention has been paid to why the Coast Guard was not sent to investigate the boat.
A day after the shipwreck, Frontex told the AP that he saw a “heavily overcrowded” boat and reported it to Italian authorities. In a second statement, however, Frontex clarified that only one person was visible on deck, but that its thermal cameras – “and other indications” – indicated that there could be more people below.
In an interview with the AP, retired Coast Guard Admiral Vittorio Alessandro said Coast Guard boats are built to withstand rough seas and should have gone out. “If not to rescue, at least to see if the boat needs any assistance.”
Alessandro said the pictures released by Frontex showed the water level was high, indicating the boat was heavy.
The Coast Guard said Frontex alerted the Italian authorities in charge of “law enforcement”, copying the Italian Coast Guard “only for their awareness”. Frontex said it is up to national authorities to classify incidents as search and rescue.
“The issue is simple in its tragic nature: no emergency communication from Frontex reached our authorities. We were not warned that this boat was on the verge of sinking,” Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni said on Saturday.
“I wonder if there is anyone in this country who sincerely believes that the government intentionally allowed people over 60 to die, including some children,” she said.
However, Alessandro lamented how over the years the Coast Guard’s activities – which previously took place far beyond international waters – have been progressively curtailed by successive governments.
“Rescue operations at sea should not be replaced by police operations. The rescue should prevail,” he said.
In an interview with the AP, Eugenio Ambrosi, chief of staff for the UN International Organization for Migration, stressed the need for a more proactive search and rescue strategy at the European level.
“We can watch and debate whether (the boat) was seen, was not seen, whether the authorities were called and did not respond,” he said. “But if there was a search and rescue mechanism in the Mediterranean, we would not be asking this question.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!