Sun, Aug 09, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Five arrested for Italy shipwreck

NY Times News Service, Rome

Rescued migrants yesterday line up after disembarking from the Norwegian cargo ship Siem Pilot at the Reggio Calabria harbor in Italy.

Photo: AP

The Italian police arrested two Libyans, two Algerians and a Tunisian on Friday in connection with a shipwreck that left at least 25 confirmed deaths and probably as many as 200.

The police in Palermo, Sicily, said the five men, ages 21 to 24, operated a rickety fishing boat, overloaded with about 600 migrants, that foundered and capsized off the Libyan coast on Wednesday.

The five were charged with multiple homicides and human trafficking, the police said.

The charges were based on police interviews with dozens of survivors of the shipwreck, more than 360 of whom arrived in Palermo on Thursday.

Survivors reported that the migrants on the boat were beaten during the journey, and that many were locked in the hold of the vessel, the police said in a statement.

Based on survivors’ accounts, the police said that the vessel was three hours from shore when it began to take on water, and that at first, the migrants in the hold, mainly from Africa, were ordered to start bailing. When they realized that they could not keep up with the water flooding in, they tried to escape the hold.

“They were beaten with knives and canes and thrown back into the hull, and the hatch was sealed by the burden of the remaining migrants, who were placed there to prevent them from opening it,” the police statement said.

When an Irish naval ship tried to help, the boat capsized.

The Italian authorities said that probably happened when the crowd of migrants on the deck saw the approaching ship and surged to one side of the fishing vessel.

Only 25 bodies have been recovered so far, but hundreds more migrants are missing and many are likely to have drowned. Many migrants attempting the illegal crossing cannot swim, and few have life jackets. Often, they are told by smugglers that the crossing will take only a few hours; in fact it can take up to two days.

The second rescue vessel to reach the scene belonged to Doctors Without Borders.

“The first thing we did when we arrived on Wednesday was distributing life belts to all those we could spot afloat,” said Juan Matias, a project coordinator for the international group. “It was a desperate situation, and many had been at sea for hours already.”

He spoke on Friday via Skype from off the Libyan coast, where his team has rescued 315 more migrants since Thursday.

Matias said he remembered seeing a Palestinian family in the water, the father desperately trying to swim and hold his infant daughter while his wife clung to a life vest.

“He told me he was giving his life jacket to his wife, who could not swim, as he saw his little daughter going down.” Matias said.

Matias’ vessel was alerted to the shipwreck by the Italian Coast Guard on Wednesday morning, he said, but it could not get there until the early afternoon because it had to stop to rescue another boat that was adrift with 94 migrants aboard.

He said that the people who his team plucked from the water were traumatized.

“Everyone on board had lost someone,” Matias said. “They were alive, but looked like dead.”

Survivors told the police that the smugglers’ price for the voyage ranged from US$1,200 to US$1,800, depending on a migrant’s place on the boat. A place in the hold cost the least, while a spot on deck near the captain, seen as the safest place to be, cost the most, they said. Life jackets were sold to some migrants for between 35 and 70 Libyan dinars (US$25 and US$50).

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