Videos of a young African man who jumped into the waters of Venice’s Grand Canal in front of hundreds of people and drowned are currently trending on the Internet.
The man, who has been identified as a Gambian, is suspected by the Italian authorities of throwing himself into the icy canal on Sunday, 22 January probably in a bid to commit suicide.
Onlookers travelling on the public transport boats filmed him with their smart phones, while some people shouted insults and racist jibes at the dying man, the videos reveal. No one jumped in to save him.
The man has been identified in the Italian media as Pateh Sabally, 22 years old, from Gambia.
He fled his country to Italy, where he has held refugee status for two years.
He only arrived in Venice, where he had travelled from Milan, that same day.
Videos of the drowning began to circulate only days after the incident on social media, sparking controversy.
In one video the man can be seen bobbing in the waters of the Grand Canal, clearly unable to keep his head above the water. Hundreds of people watched the scene, with some filming.
In another video, someone can be heard shouting, “Africa! Africa!”, and someone also shouts, “Throw him the life jackets!”
Two buoys are thrown to the man from one of the boats, and the man in the water flails an arm helplessly — whether to try to grab on to a buoy or not, it is impossible to say.
Passengers on the boats shout insults at the man, “Piece of shit”, “Go back home”, “Let him die!”, “He’s stupid, he wants to die”.
A second video, filmed from another angle, captures a conversation between tourists as the man is drowning. Some of them say that they want to jump into the water while others stop them, saying that it is too dangerous.
When emergency services arrive moments later, the man is already dead.
“I don’t want to accuse anyone, but maybe something more could have been done to save him,” Dino Basso, the director of the local lifeboat and sea rescue organisation Société nationale de sauvetage, told an Italian newspaper.
According to him, the water in the canal would be around 5 degrees celsius – making it useless throwing a buoy to the man, as he would have been paralysed by the cold and unable to grab hold of it.
He also added that a lifeguard was about to jump in before being distracted by a woman on one of the boats who shouted that the drowning man was only “pretending”. “By the time he had checked, [the man] had disappeared,” he explained.
“It gives pause for thought. This wasn’t a shipwreck, but a death in a canal, in front of hundreds of people,” wrote Francesca Zaccariotto, head of construction and public works in Venice, on her Facebook page.
The city’s prosecutor has opened an investigation into the public drowning.
Felix Dappah with agency reports