Authorities Ignored Pleas for Help for Hours, 268 Drowned

Leaked audio tapes reveal debate about jurisdiction while Syrian refugees sink
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted May 9, 2017 2:35 PM CDT
268 Drowned While Authorities Debated: Leaked Tapes
In this photo grabbed from a footage released by the Italian Navy in October 2013, migrants receive help from two rafts from the Italian Navy ship Libra off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.   (AP Photo/Italian Navy HO)

Audio tapes leaked Monday reveal authorities had a chance to save the 268 Syrian refugees—including 60 children—who drowned when their boat capsized in October 2013 but instead wasted time with, as the Times of Malta puts it, "bureaucratic wrangling and indifference." Mohammed Jammo, a Syrian doctor on the doomed boat, made multiple calls to Italian and Maltese authorities up to five hours before the disaster, pleading for help, the Washington Post reports. "We are dying, please. Don't abandon us," Jammo says during one of the calls. He told authorities the boat was taking on water and there were injured children aboard.

Italy had a military vessel 20 nautical miles from the sinking ship but didn't send it, instead telling Jammo to call Malta. Malta told Jammo to call Italy. The sticking point: The refugee boat was technically in waters overseen by Malta but was nearly twice as close to the Italian island of Lampedusa, the Independent reports. And Malta didn't have a vessel anywhere near as close as the Italian vessel. Italian authorities also appeared hesitant to bring the refugees to Italy. Italy eventually did send its vessel—hours after the first call from Jammo—but only after a Maltese plane confirmed the boat had capsized and there were people in the water. Amnesty International says it's "reasonable to question" whether authorities from both countries did everything they could to prevent 268 people from dying. (More Syrian refugees stories.)

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