Factbox-Italy's authorities face scrutiny over response to deadly migrant shipwreck

FILE PHOTO: Mourners attend a lying-in-state for victims who died in a migrant shipwreck, in Crotone

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's authorities are facing scrutiny over their response to a tragic shipwreck near their shores, in which at least 67 migrants, including 16 children, have died.

Here is what is known about Sunday's disaster, which took place before dawn near the coast of Steccato di Cutro, in the southern Calabria region.


A Turkish wooden sailing boat, known as a gulet, left from Izmir in western Turkey on Feb. 22 and arrived near Italy after about four days of navigation.

Between 150-200 migrants were on board, mostly from Afghanistan but also Pakistan, Syria, the Palestinian Territories, Iran and Somalia, Italian authorities said.

According to Italy's Guardia di Finanza Police, they each paid traffickers about 8,000 euros ($8,540) to make the perilous sea journey.


The boat was first spotted late on Saturday about 74 km from the coast of Calabria by a plane operated by Frontex, the European Union's border agency.

In response, the Guardia di Finanza police force said it sent out two patrol boats, but they gave up searching for the migrants and returned to port due to "difficult" weather conditions. Television footage on Sunday morning showed blustery weather with strong waves.

Authorities then mobilised search units along the coastline, expecting the migrants to come ashore, but by then the boat had already crashed against rocks, breaking into pieces.

Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said Sunday it was "materially impossible" to intervene to save the migrants at sea, as the rescuers' own lives would have been endangered.

In the morning police, firefighters and other emergency services found nearly 30 bodies washed up on the shore, and more in the water, in scenes that have been described as apocalyptic.


La Repubblica newspaper and other media have questioned why the Guardia di Finanza and not the Coast Guard, whose vessels are better equipped to face rough seas, were deployed.

It is unclear why this decision was made and who was responsible for making the call.

The Guardia di Finanza is Italy's tax and customs police, a role that investigates financial crimes, including smuggling and contraband activities on the coastline and at ports.

In a separate statement, the Coast Guard said it also received the Frontex message on Saturday evening, but did not act on it as it contained no information about the migrants' boat being in distress.

The Coast Guard said it intervened only after it received a call about an emergency situation at about 4:30 am (0330 GMT) Sunday, from people on the coast who had spotted a vessel in distress near the shore.

No distress call came from the boat, the Coast Guard added, pointing out that the Carabinieri police, as well as the Guardia di Finanza, were alerted about the situation before it was.

The Coast Guard's local commander, Vittorio Aloi, told reporters on Wednesday he was sure that the rules of engagement had been properly followed by his corps - but also said that sea conditions were not that severe.

He talked of "force 4" wind conditions, which are classified as a "moderate breeze", on the night of the shipwreck, and said Coast Guard vessels could have gone out at sea even with "force 8" conditions.


Prosecutor Giuseppe Capoccia, who is conducting investigations into the shipwreck, told La Repubblica newspaper that a lack of coordination may have contributed to the tragedy.

"We are certainly seeing a system with gaps, where, probably in perfectly good faith, everyone does their own thing, but which in the end results in a 'you go, no you go' situation that can lead to tragic situations like this one," he said.

Capoccia confirmed that no formal "search and rescue" event was declared in response to the sighting of the boat, and said the first help call from the vessel came at around 4 am - presumably just before the shipwreck.

"We will reconstruct everything (that happened) but it makes me angry, as a family man, as a citizen, to think that perhaps something could have been done to save those people," the prosecutor said. ($1 = 0.9370 euros)

(Reporting by Angelo Amante, Alvise Armellini, Gianluca Semeraro, Cristina Carlevaro, writing by Alvise Armellini; Editing by Aurora Ellis)