NGOs filed joint complaint with the Crotone Public Prosecutor’s Office in relation to the failure to rescue people at sea off the coast of Cutro

March 9, 2023

Around 40 Italian and European civil society associations filed a joint complaint today, 9 March 2023, with the Public Prosecutor’s Office at the Crotone Court in order to have an accurate investigation carried out into the responsibilities of the Italian authorities in relation to the failure to rescue the boat that sank a few hundred metres off the coast on the morning of Sunday 26 February, and in whose shipwreck more than 70 people lost their lives, including many children.

Such a tragedy was in fact foreseeable and could have been avoided if only the national and international regulations on rescue at sea had been punctually applied by the Italian authorities in charge of such matters.
All the associations involved hope that rapid and effective investigations aimed at ascertaining the criminal responsibilities of state bodies will prevent this umpteenth tragedy from going unpunished. They recall, in fact, that Italy has already been censured by the United Nations Human Rights Committee for violating the right to life, including in its procedural aspect, in relation to the failure to rescue on 11 October 2013, when the Italian authorities waited many hours before rescuing a boat with around 300 people on board, which capsized while waiting for rescue. When, seven years after the events, criminal proceedings relating to the failure to rescue appeared to be still ongoing, the Committee found that Italy had not fulfilled its duty to conduct a prompt investigation into allegations of violations of the right to life and, as a result, had breached its obligations under Article 6 (1) read in conjunction with Article 2 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (HRC, A.S. v Italy, views of 4 November 2020, UN doc. CCPR/C/130/D/3042/2017). On 2 December 2022, the Court of Rome finally ascertained the wilful failure to provide assistance on the part of the officers – of the Coast Guard and the Navy – competent to give the order to intervene, considering, however, that the offences ascribed to them, even though all the constituent elements existed, were to be declared time-barred.
Similarly to the precedent just mentioned, the shipwreck of Sunday 26 February, which took place in the Italian SAR zone and very close to the coast, could have been avoided if the Italian Sea Rescue Coordination Centre (IMRCC) had taken over the coordination of rescue operations and sent adequate naval and air assets as required by the provisions of the National Maritime SAR Plan (Ministerial Decree no. 45 of 04/02/2021).
In fact, it appears from the communications of the authorities involved (Frontex, Coast Guard and Guardia di Finanza) that the Italian authorities had received notification of the presence of a vessel, overloaded with people and heading towards the Italian coast, almost 24 hours before the disaster. This lapse of time would probably have allowed the rescue vessels of the Italian Coast Guard to reach the boat in distress and escort it towards the coast, preventing it from running aground in a sandy shoal and sinking.
Having culpably qualified a situation of danger at sea as an illegal immigration event to be entrusted to the Guardia di Finanza as a police operation and not to authorities and means equipped for rescue as those of the Coast Guard are, was a predictably erroneous choice that did not take into account the obligations to protect human life at sea deriving from international law and implemented in national legislation.
For this reason, the associations deemed it necessary to act collectively, in the interest of the whole of civil society, asking the Judicial Authority to assess whether criminal liability (in particular for the crimes of culpable shipwreck and manslaughter) can be found against the agents of the authorities responsible for sea rescue.

Associazione Contro gli Abusi in Divisa (A.C.A.D.)
Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione (A.S.G.I.)
Associazione Clinica Legale per i Diritti Umani
Associazione Progetto Accoglienza,
Casa dei Diritti Sociali
Comitato Verità e Giustizia per i Nuovi Desaparecidos
Legambiente Nazionale
Consorzio Italiano di Solidarietà – ufficio rifugiati ONLUS (ICS)
Fondazione Gruppo Abele
Gruppo Lavoro Rifugiati
International Justice and Human Rights Centre
Legal Team Italia
Medici Senza Frontiere
Associazione Don Vincenzo Matrangolo
Rete Comunità Solidali
Open Arms Italia
Oxfam Italia
Progetto Mem.Med – Memoria Mediterranea
Mediterranea Saving Humans
WatchTheMed Alarm Phone
Sea Eye
Diritti di Frontiera – Laboratorio di Teoria e Pratica dei Diritti
Fondazione Roberto Franceschi
A Buon Diritto
Confederazione Unione Sindacale di Base
Louise Michel
Associazione Comunità Progetto Sud
Medici del Mondo Italia
Campagna LasciateCIEntrare
Melting Pot
MoCi Cosenza
Coordinamento Nazionale Comunità di Accoglienza
La Petite Bibliothèque