Italian Coast Guard waited 5 hours before rescuing drowning refugees, tapes show



Audio logs obtained by Italian news magazine L'Espresso show that authorities ignored repeated pleas from refugees for hours as they drowned less than 100 miles from the Italian coast.

The deadly incident happened in October 2013, when 480 people — most of whom were Syrian refugees — boarded a boat from northwestern Libya to Lampedusa, an Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea. When their vessel began to take on water, they radioed the Italian Coast Guard for help.

Tapes of those calls, obtained by L'Espresso and translated into English by theWashington Post, show that the Italians dithered for five hours before sending help.

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Over 100 dead as migrant boat capsizes
A member of the Egyptian armed forces stands guard on the shore in the Egyptian port city of Rosetta on September 22, 2016, during a search operation after a boat carrying migrants capsized in the Mediterranean. A boat carrying up to 450 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean off Egypt's north coast, drowning 42 people and prompting a search operation that rescued 163 passengers, officials said. / AFP / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptians wait for the recovery of bodies, during a search operation after a boat carrying migrants capsized in the Mediterranean, along the shore in the northern port city of Rosetta on September 22, 2016. A boat carrying up to 450 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean off Egypt's north coast, drowning 42 people and prompting a search operation that rescued 163 passengers, officials said. / AFP / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED AND Hasan MROUE (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED,HASAN MROUE/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptians stand on the shore as they wait for the recovery of bodies, during a search operation after a boat carrying migrants capsized in the Mediterranean, along the shore in the Egyptian port city of Rosetta on September 22, 2016. A boat carrying up to 450 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean off Egypt's north coast, drowning 42 people and prompting a search operation that rescued 163 passengers, officials said. / AFP / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian medics arrive on a boat carrying bodies of migrants, during a search operation after a boat carrying migrants capsized in the Mediterranean, along the shore in the Egyptian port city of Rosetta on September 21, 2016. A boat carrying up to 450 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean off Egypt's north coast, drowning 42 people and prompting a search operation that rescued 163 passengers, officials said. / AFP / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
BEHEIRA, EGYPT - SEPTEMBER 22: Relatives of lost migrants wait as the search and rescue operations carried out by Egyptian Coast Guard members and fishing boats at Port Rashid in Beheira, Egypt on September 22, 2016. Migrants' boat submerged on its way to Europe at the Mediterranean Sea. According to the reports, 450 of the 600 had lost, 150 had been rescued. (Photo by Ahmed Al Sayed/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CAIRO, Sept. 22, 2016 : Survivors of a capsized migrant boat stay at a police station in the port city of Rosetta, Egypt, Sept. 21, 2016. The death toll of the capsized migrant boat near Egypt's northern coast on Wednesday rose to 42, while six were wounded and 35 others rescued after first aid treatment in hospitals, Egyptian Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed told Xinhua. (Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa via Getty Images)
Egyptian relatives react near thte body of a victim who was in a boat carrying migrants which capsized off Egypt's coast, in Al-Beheira, Egypt, September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
A man reacts as rescue workers carry the body of a victim on a stretcher after a boat carrying migrants capsized off Egypt's coast, in Al-Beheira, Egypt, September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A relative of a missing person from a capsized boat in the Mediterranean Sea looks on, in Al-Beheira, Egypt, September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
People gather along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea during a search for victims after a migrant boat capsized, in Al-Beheira, Egypt, September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Migrants who were rescued from a boat that capsized in the Mediterranean Sea are pictured in Al-Beheira, Egypt, September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Relatives of missing persons from a capsized boat in the Mediterranean Sea are pictured in Al-Beheira, Egypt, September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Migrants who were rescued from a boat that capsized in the Mediterranean Sea are pictured in Al-Beheira, Egypt, September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Migrants who were rescued from a boat that capsized in the Mediterranean Sea are pictured in Al-Beheira, Egypt, September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
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The first call came at 12:39 p.m. local time on Oct. 10. Mohanned Jammo, a doctor, radioed the Italian Coast Guard headquarters in Rome to ask for help. He told them his ship was taking on water and there were injured children aboard.

The second call came 1:17 p.m.. Again, Jammo asked for help. This time, the radio operator told him to call Malta, claiming the ship was "near Malta."

Under European maritime agreements, the ship was in an area under Malta's responsibility, but it was closer to Italy — 118 nautical miles to Malta versus 61 to Lampedusa. Italy's nearest vessel was 20 nautical miles away, while Malta's was 70.

The third call came at 1:48 p.m. Jammo told the Italians that the Maltese had told him, truthfully, that he was closer to Italy.

"We are dying, please," he said.

Audio of a fourth call shows that the Maltese offered to send their nearby vessel, but asked the Italians to send theirs, as well. The Italians said no. A fifth call between the Italians and the Maltese shows an Italian officer saying he didn't want to be responsible for transferring the refugees to the nearest coast.

The Maltese then sent a surveillance plane to the refugees' location and, discovering their ship had capsized, implored the Italians to send their ship. They agreed.

In all, 268 people died.

The Syrian Civil War, raging since 2011, has driven millions of Syrians from their homes. More than 5 million Syrian refugees are registered with the United Nations. In 2016 alone, 44,000 refugees arrived in Italy, according to the U.N.

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