Italy and Malta bickered over the 11 October rescue operation, each insisting that the other was responsible to save 400 migrants from a sinking boat, another survivor of the tragedy has alleged.
In a Corriere della Sera blog, Rfaat Hazima, who is desperately calling for help to find his two lost sons – eight-year-old Mohamad and 12-year-old Ahmad– has given his own account of what happened on 11 October.
“I, my wife and our three children left Libya on 10 October. The following day we started calling for help at noon. We called the Italian and Maltese coast guard. The Italians answered and told us that we were closer to Malta. But the Maltese were telling us the exact opposite, because they claimed that we were closer to Italy.
After a number of tries the Italian Coast Guard told us that they would come to our rescue in 40 minutes but help did not arrive until 4.40pm. By that time we were in the water. At this point I lost sight of my three sons. A few minutes later I spotted my eldest – Anas – but there was no sign of Mohamad and Ahmad. We were alone in the water and there was no sign of the Italians or the Maltese. After 20 minutes I spotted my wife. We waited for another hour until a helicopter came over and dropped a life raft.
As soon as I put my wife and son onto the raft I went looking for my other sons. Then the Maltese boat arrived, followed by the Italian vessel a few minutes later. The Maltese were picking up adults and children, but the Italians were picking up only children. They refused to let me board. I kept searching for my children for around four hours and when I lost all hope I returned to my wife and my eldest son on the raft.
Later on we were picked up by the Maltese boat and we were taken to Malta. A certain Dr Maamun Abras told me that he had seen my sons on board the Italian patrol boat and assured me that they were alive and I would see them again. Two weeks after we arrived in Malta Italy sent pictures of the survivors but there were no pictures of my sons. A week later they sent us pictures of those who had died, but once again, there were no pictures of my sons.”