Sicilian police arrested two suspected people traffickers who were among 28 survivors of what may be the worst tragedy in living memory involving migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa, the Times of Malta reports.
The survivors arrived in Catania just before midnight April 20. The migrants had been traveling on a wooden fishing boat carrying up to 800 people when it capsized near Libya, as a cargo vessel was coming to its aid, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reports.
Italian prosecutors have detained Mohammed Ali Malek from Tunis, suspected to be the captain of the boat, and Mahmud Bikhit from Syria.
They are charged with people trafficking, with Ali Malek also being charged with reckless multiple homicide.
The prosecutors said that capsizing had been caused by the captain accidentally ramming the boat into the approaching Portugese cargo ship, and migrants rushing to one side of the boat, causing further instability to the damaged vessel.
The other survivors are mostly from Sub Saharan Africa from Mali, Gambia, Cote d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Senegal, Sierra Leone. Others are from Bangladesh and Tunisia.
They were brought to Catania by the Italian Coast Guard vessel, the Gregoretti, which had also delivered 24 bodies from the same tragedy to Malta.
On Monday reports came in of two or more boats in distress – one with between 150 and 200 migrants on board, the other with 300 – and the possibility of 20 fatalities.
With this latest count, IOM calculates the 2015 death toll now is more than 30 times last year’s total for the same period when 56 deaths of migrants were reported in the Mediterranean.
Through the end of April last year, 96 migrants had perished, indicating that the last week of April was the deadliest period of the year to date. The 2014 total of 3,279 migrant deaths may be surpassed this year in a matter of weeks, IOM says.
The latest string of tragedies has prompted the European Union to step up its efforts in the Mediterranean, announcing a 10-point action plan to tackle the crisis.
Image: Francesco Malavolta/IOM 2015