Sunday 30 April 2017

Italian judge convicts pair in sinking that claimed 700 migrants

Mohammad Ali Malek was sentenced to 18 years in prison (AP)
Mohammad Ali Malek was sentenced to 18 years in prison (AP)
Many migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe

A judge in Sicily has convicted a ship captain and crew member in the April 2015 sinking that left 700 people dead in one of the Mediterranean's worst migrant disasters.

The Tunisian captain, Mohammad Ali Malek, was sentenced to 18 years in prison and fined nine million euro (£7.5 million).

He was convicted of multiple manslaughter counts.

His Syrian crewmate, Mahmud Bikhit, was sentenced to five years in prison and also fined nine million euro after being convicted of facilitating illegal immigration.

Prosecutors accused Malek of inadvertently ramming the overloaded fishing boat into the cargo ship that had come to its rescue on April 18, 2015, destabilising it.

The boat flipped over after migrants rushed to one side. Only 28 survived.

The wreck was brought to the surface and some 700 bodies recovered.

Forensic pathologists have been working ever since to try to identify them, so the remains can be returned to their families.

The wreck prompted the European Union to beef up its Mediterranean rescue flotilla.

But the waves of migrants have continued: Some 176,678 people arrived in Italy by sea in 2016, more than in either 2014 or 2015, according to the International Organisation of Migration.

The deaths have continued as well: IOM counts 4,244 known deaths in the Libya-Italy smuggling route during 2016, compared to 2,868 last year.

Prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro hailed the verdict after the fast-track trial.

In a statement, Mr Zuccaro said it reinforced two important legal principles: affirming Italian jurisdiction for illegal immigration cases that occur in international waters, and considering rescued migrants as victims, not suspects.

AP

Press Association

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