Italian navy accused of murder

Adriatic tragedy overshadows multinational operation in Albania, writes Andrew Gumbel in Rome

Italy's armed forces faced mounting allegations yesterday that they were responsible for a major disaster in the Adriatic, following the sinking of a boat full of Albanians which collided with an Italian navy corvette on Friday night.

While the official death toll was just four, and navy officers denied reports that scores more bodies were trapped in the hull of the sunken boat, Pandeli Pasko, Albania's ambassador to Italy, sent a fax to magistrates in Brindisi alleging that, in fact, 79 people lost their lives in the disaster.

Mr Pasko's figure was based on interviews with 34 survivors, and, although higher than some of the estimates made by survivors over the weekend,was the latest, and most authoritative, evidence that something truly sinister had taken place in the storm-tossed waters of the Adriatic.

The Albanian boat, an old Russian-built patrol vessel, was carrying scores of Albanians seeking to reach Italy in defiance of a naval blockade set up in the last few days. It seems the boat attempted to weave its way around the Italian corvettes, but ended up colliding with one of them, the Sibilla, and sinking.

According to some of the survivors, the Italian ship deliberately chose not to prevent the collision and may even have rammed the Albanians deliberately. The Italians, meanwhile, insist that the collision was unavoidable and the result of a suicidal swerve by the seemingly inexperienced Albanian captain.

Two separate investigations into the incident have already been opened, one by civilian magistrates in Brindisi and the other an internal navy enquiry. The captain of the Sibilla is under formal investigation for culpable homicide.

The stage seems set for a classic Italian mystery, with everyone involved behaving suspiciously. While the Albanians are almost certainly exaggerating the number of casualties, the Italian navy Chief of Staff, Angelo Mariani, has looked thoroughly unconvincing in his lack of concern about the possibility of dozens of bodies on the sea bed.

The full truth of the matter will probably never be known, but in the meantime, the incident is turning into the worst possible prelude to the Italian-led military force due to go into Albania to try to restore order in the next couple of weeks.

The force, which will number 2,500 initially, was given the blessing of the United Nations Security Council early on Saturday morning. Its mandate, rather like that of the UN mission in Bosnia, will be to protect aid convoys coming into the country and secure certain key sites such as the airport.

The good news about the force is that the international community has finally decided to do something to stop Albania collapsing altogether. The bad news is that the diplomatic efforts have been confused, slow and almost farcical in their bureaucratic entanglement.

Some diplomats have been nursing the hope that Albania will provide Europe with a chance to shine in foreign policy, and put the mistakes of Bosnia behind it. But all the signs are that the same mistakes are being made all over again.

Italy, the country most directly involved in Albania, has been lobbying for an international force for the past fortnight. At various meetings of European Union foreign ministers, the idea was vetoed first by the Germans, then by the British. Finally it became clear that no concerted action would materialise, so the Italians decided to set up their own mission with the help of the French, the Greeks, the Turks and a handful of other countries.

The next difficulty was establishing a mandate. Ideally, an international force would not only secure supply lines, but also help round-up weapons looted from army and police depots in the past two months and organise parliamentary elections.

So diluted has the diplomatic process become, though, that the troops are unlikely to have any powers to disarm civilians and risk becoming bogged down as the UN force was in Bosnia.

The Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe, meanwhile, is still trying to establish the ground rules for its own possible intervention in the run-up to elections that have been promised by June.

Its deliberations have been held up by bureaucratic wrangles about authorisation and the roles of the UN, the EU and OSCE itself. The nature of the task ahead has been rather low on the agenda.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own