The Albanian Foreign Minister voiced his regret for the improper use of the forces of the Italian Fleet at a time when the protocol of coordination, which gives legal force to the letters they had exchanged on the Joint Patrolling, was not yet signed.
"The Albanian party is profoundly interested that the tragic event be clarified as soon as possible and it asks that immediate investigation should start by Albanian and Italian experts as well as by international experts to throw light on the event," says the letter.
Expressing his thanks to the Italian counterpart for the assistance that Italy has provided to Albania in these difficult moments, Minister Starova asked by the Italian party an all-sided commitment so that such events be not repeated any more." kled/xh/sh/
Mr Berlusconi asked Mr Pasko to give him the lists of the rescued people and of the drowned people. He said he would go himself today afternoon to meet the people who are alive to ask them for their requests.
Albanian Ambassador told Mr Berlusconi of the first demand of the rescued that the bodies of their drowned relatives and family members be found.
Mr Berlusconi aims to help economically the people who could survive in order to make their grief less painful.
Mr Pasko has also received such a message of condolence by Prof Antonio M artino, former Foreign Minister of Italy and charged with the coordination of the foreign policy of "Forca Italia." ssh/xh
"From the contacts with the people who could be rescued from the Albanian ship which capsized on March 28 in the evening, it comes out that:
The military ship No 405 left the port of Vlore at 3 p.m. and near the island of Sazan has taken on board three people who were leaving the country on a rubber boat.
The ship was packed mainly with women and children and it carried no arms.
Before it came out of our territorial waters, the Italian frigate No 577 appeared and accomapnied the Albanian ship for a long time, sailing on its side and barring its way, something which has made difficult the manoeuvres for the Albanian ship. The Italian ship has announced on a megaphone that the Albanian ship's crew would be arrested, and the rest of the people on board would be sent back home.
The Albanian ship had responded in a peaceful way showing a white flag and the children on the deck.
The accompanying of the Albanian ship lasted until about 6 p.m. and then the Italian frigate has left.
A short time later, another Italian frigate No 558, accompanied by a helicopter, had arrived. The frigate started to block the way for the Albanian ship, making difficult its movement at a time when the sea was rough.
At around 7 p.m. the Italian frigate, several times bigger than the Albanian ship, after making a call, neared from behind and hit the Albanian ship, first in the middle and that on its front. These hits filled the Albanian ship with water and as a result it capsized immediately.
The people on the deck of the Albanian ship and those who could threw themselves into the water and kept swimming.
According to eyewitnesses, the people were not assisted in time and if the help was offered quicker, more people could have been saved. The final result of this disaster has remained unknown.
According to testimonies, on the board of the Albanian ship are also supposed to have been 79 other people, whose bodies are not found.
During March 29, the 34 people who survived were kept isolated and interrogated. They have had no contacts with reporters.
Nobody had asked them to identify the people they were with and they are feeling themselves rather isolated and abandoned after the misfortune they experienced.
During the talk with them, there were also revolts and shouts against Italians, calling them criminels.
The requests of the people who are resqued, are: first, that the bodies of their relatives be found and then, a part of them, wants to return home and another part wants to stay in Italy for a period of time.
It should be stressed the fact that the Italian side has not yet taken into consideration the Albanian testimonies.
The explanations made by Admiral Angelo Mariani, chief of the Italian Navy General Headquarters, are completely opposite to the Albanian testimonies both regarding the intimidation by the two Italian frigates and the hit against the Albanian ship, which, according to eyewitnesses, was intentional," ends the declaration of the Albanian Ambassador in Rome, Pandeli Pasko, regarding the incident on the Otranto channel on March 28, 1997. ake/xh
In this regard the Albanian Government declares:
The Government of National Reconciliation is greatly concerned about theis event, therefore it once more expresses its most profound condolences to the relatives of the Albanian citizens who lost their lives in the incident.
The Government of National Reconciliation is convinced that the shocking event is not an act which results from the Italian policy, but, nevertheless, taking into consideration the testimonies by eyewitnesses and the reports of mass media in general, it is of the opinion that the incident might have been avoided.
Highlighting the seriosity of the Italian magistrature, the Albanian Government voices its belief that the investigation and the truth will be made known as soon as possible because these not only cannot harm the friendly climate between the Albanian people and the Italian one, between the governments of the two countries, but, on the contrary, will be an indispensability which will further serve this climate.
The Albanian Government demands from the Italian Government to make all efforts to bring out of the sea the bodies of the Albanian citizens who got drowned on March 28, 1997. On this occasion, the Albanian Government reminds the Italian Government of the difficult situation in Albania, the social aggravations and in this regard, it is of the opinion that it will be not only an expression of humanity, but also a matter of dignity if the Italian Government re-examines with seriosity the question of Albanian refugees in Italy, their treatment and judicial position concerning their social integration, because this is a gesture of rapprochement between our two peoples. xh
The 21-year-old girl Ismete Demiri, whose daughter got drowned last Friday, told ATA: "We were more than 100 people, maybe 120-130. Italian authorities lie when they say that there were 40 people on the board of our ship." The same fact is also confirmed by Edward from Fier, who lost in this tragedy seven people of his family and the 22-year-old Aleksander Greko whose wife and son got drowned.
All the eye witnesses give the same version for the course of the event. "We were in front, followed by the Italian frigate. In a moment, at a very high speed, the frigate hit our ship indirectly. This was the first stroke whereas the second was directed straightly to the cabin, and after three or four seconds the ship sank in the water. When our ship capsized the Italians did not assist us at all, we ourselves went to their ship, they did not help us," Edward told BBC.
"It was not an accident," said Ismete when asked whether the collision by the Italian ship was an accident or a deliberate act. "The only thing I can say is that everything that happened was consciously made," said Aleksander Greko.
"The Italian ship hit us intentionally, I saw the scene myself, my wife and children were in the rooms downstairs, I was upstairs," told BBC Bardhoshi from Vlora.
Albanian Ambassador in Rome, Pandeli Pasko, said that the version declared yesterday at noon by the Italian side is not the same with the version of the Albanian eye witnesses.
"It is necessary that an immediate comparison of these versions be made. The event is very dramatic, I may say that in the list of the drowned are about 20 people under 20 years of age. There are also some children of several months. The result is rather bitter. The event must be analysed and clarified immediately in all its aspects. Albanian testimonies are horrible. We would like to have heard such testimonies earlier, before coming here. I learned of the proportions of this tragedy only when I contacted the people myself. I have in my hands the lists which show that there are over 75 people lost, and if we add the 34 people who were rescued the figure amounts to 109 and if we add the number 4 of the drowned which were declared, the number becomes 113 and with the number of those who seem to have been on the decks, it results that the catastrophe has been really great," said Pasko.
Asked to explain the fact that Italian senior investigators continue to insist that there were no more than 40 people on board, at a time when Albanian witnessing refugees give very clear testimonies, Albanian Ambassador replied: "When I was attending the news conference, in fact I thought that there were 34 people rescued and 4 drowned, but here I see other proportions of the tragedy, which should have been made known since the very first moment." kled/xh