Kabul: Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has defended her government’s actions in the hours before a deadly migrant shipwreck just metre from shore, amid intensifying allegations that the tragedy could easily have been averted.
The migrant vessel — an old wooden fishing boat carrying about 200 people, mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Syria — broke apart just metres from land off Italy’s southern coast on February 26 after sailing across the Mediterranean from Turkey.
More than 70 people, including children, are confirmed to have drowned, with many others still missing. Only 80 passengers survived.
In the wake of the tragedy, critics highlighted questions about the seriousness of Italy’s rescue effort after Frontex, the European border agency said that one of its patrol aircraft had spotted the “heavily overcrowded boat” heading towards the Calabrian coast on February 25, Saturday evening and alerted Italian authorities.
Frontex provided relevant Italian authorities with “the boat’s location, infrared pictures, location, course and speed”, financial times reported.
The Italian financial police, the Guardia di Finanza, dispatched two police boats to intercept the ship but said they returned to base because of rough seas, poor weather and “the impossibility of continuing safely”.
Days prior to migrant’s boat incident, Italian authorities seized a rescue vessel operated by the charity Médecins Sans Frontières where last week’s wreck occurred.
Since taking power last year, Italy’s government has tried to restrict humanitarian groups’ Mediterranean search-and-rescue operations, which it believes encourage more migrants to undertake the dangerous crossing.