By Concerned Eritreans from Lampedusa,
While the important task of identifying the bodies and repatriating the remains to their homeland for a final resting place is at the forefront of all the efforts exerted by the families of the victims of the Lampedusa boat tragedy, important questions are being raised by the survivors that will need further and thorough investigation.
The causes that made the boat to sink, the lack and delay of efforts by the Italians to rescue the migrants that border on sheer negligence, and other serious allegations by the survivors, compel us to call for an immediate investigation to get to the bottom of the causes that led to the horrific loss of hundreds of lives. Here is a brief account of the survivors on what transpired on 3 October 2013.
1./ The boat carrying some 521 migrants had arrived near the coast of Lampedusa Island on 3rd October at around 2 AM in the morning. The weather was smooth throughout the journey and they did not encounter any high waves until they switched off the engine some distance from the Island. Maximum 5 Kms (but many say around 1Km). There are two questions that can be raised from this important sequence of events:
a) The Italian Coast Guard has the capacity to intercept incoming boats from as far away as 50 km from the coast, get a concise coordinates of the boat and its bearing, and the Italian Coast Guard, on many occasions, had sailed tens of kilometers to intercept migrant boats. So, why couldn’t the Italian Coast Guard detect a boat that had sailed and was standing still for at least half an hour within a stone throw from its shores?
b) A lot of the survivors are claiming seeing two small speed boats flashing red emergency lights come within 50 meters of their boat, circled around it twice, and left without providing any assistance. Why? Where did these speed boats come from? Who dispatched them? Are there any recordings of the communication between these speed boats and the Italian Coast Guard? Were these boats not detectable on the Italian Coast Guard’s radar systems? These critical unanswered questions necessitate further investigating by all concerned authorities.
2./ The captain and co-captain of the boat, who are said to be Tunisians, flashed their flashlight for an indefinite period of time until the battery died. Between 2:30 AM and 3:00 AM on the 3rd of October, the captain realized that there was a leak and the boat was take in water. Without consulting all the migrants who were helping him fix the motor of the boat, he held a blanket in his hand, dowsed it with benzine and lit it such that a fireball was created. Almost immediately, he dropped the fireball from his hand as the fire threatened to overwhelm him.
The migrants who were sitting close to where he dropped the thrown fireball panicked and ran towards the other side of the extremely overcrowded boat. This immediately caused the boat to tip first towards its side for few minutes and then it completely capsized. Some of the migrants reported that this process took less than a minute. Mayhem ensued as most of the migrants did not have any knowledge of the sea and could not swim. They were all cast into the deep sea, which is approximately 50 meters in depth.
3./ The boat remained upside down for about 30-60 minutes. Assuming that the highest point of the boat had touched the seafloor, the migrants who were initially thrown into the sea made their way back to the ship and started climbing onto the capsized vessel. Soon after, the boat sank completely leaving those on top of it to their own devices. It was reported that the majority did not know how to swim, and those who did were grabbed by those who could not swim. In the ensuing cries for help, it was impossible to save all those who were not able to swim or those who could not set themselves free.
4./ Those who managed to swim away from the horrific scene started to swim to the shore but the waves were moving against them and thus depleted their energy. The first survivors to reach land said it took them about 4 to 4.5 hours. They were first noticed by private in the fisher area, who witnessed the horrific scenes of bodies washing up onto the island’s shore. The fishers threw safety floating devices to the survivors and sought help from the Coast Guard.
5./ The private fisher (with his companions) who raised the alarm around 7:30 AM in the morning said the Coast Guard took 50 minutes to arrive at the scene. If the coast guard were following their standard operating protocols, it should not have taken them more than approximately 12 minutes to reach the scene. What was the cause of the delay? Additionally, how many more lives could have been saved had there not been a delay and departure from standard protocol by the Italian Coast Guard.
These and many other questions into the conduct of the Italian authorities calls for in depth investigation and follow up. Note: Times given by the survivors is approximate, since no one looked what time it was during those chaotic hours where they were fighting for their lives.
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