Mistakes caused migrant ship disaster

2015-04-21 13:22
Italian Coast Guard officers disembark the body of a dead migrant off the ship Bruno Gregoretti, in Valletta's Grand Harbour. (Lino Azzopardi, AP)

Italian Coast Guard officers disembark the body of a dead migrant off the ship Bruno Gregoretti, in Valletta's Grand Harbour. (Lino Azzopardi, AP)

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Catania - Italian authorities said on Tuesday that the Mediterranean's deadliest migrant boat disaster had been caused by a combination of mistakes by the captain and the ship being impossibly overcrowded.

Prosecutors in the Sicilian city of Catania said the boat had collided with a Portuguese container ship just before it capsized but absolved the crew of the merchant vessel of any responsibility for the tragedy.

They said the boat had keeled over after the collision which had been caused by steering mistakes by the captain and the panicked movements of the hundreds of migrants packed onto the 20m former fishing trawler.

The captain was named as Tunisian Mohammed Ali Malek, aged 27. He has been arrested on suspicion of multiple murder, causing a shipwreck and aiding illegal immigration.

Crew member and Syrian national Mahmud Bikhit, aged 25, has also been arrested, on suspicion of aiding illegal immigration.

The prosecutors said they would be asking a judge later on Tuesday to authorise the two men's extended detention in custody pending further investigation and possible formal charges.

Only 28 people, including the two arrested men, survived on Sunday's disaster in which 800 people are feared to have drowned.

The prosecutors said it was impossible to ascertain the exact death toll but it was clear hundreds had died, including children and many who had been locked below decks.

The UN refugee agency has estimated the toll at 800 based on survivors' initial testimonies. A report from the Portuguese merchant ship's captain estimated that there were 850 people on board, the prosecutors said.

The Italian government has pledged that every effort will be made to salvage what remains of the boat, which the prosecutors said would be vital to the investigation.

"On the basis of what has emerged, no blame can be accorded to the crew of the merchant ship which came to rescue and in no way contributed to the fatal event," the Catania prosecutors said in a statement.

Read more on:    italy  |  libya  |  maritime

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