Migrant boat which sank with 700 people on board raised by Italian navy
Published 29/06/2016 | 09:36
The Italian navy has recovered a migrant ship that sank off Sicily last year with an estimated 700 people on board in one of the worst known tragedies of the Mediterranean migrant crisis.
The navy said it raised the boat from a depth of 1,214ft, and it will now be kept in a refrigerated transport structure for the trip to port in Sicily, where forensic experts will begin trying to identify the victims.
The sinking on April 18, 2015 remains one of the deadliest on record, though the real number of drownings will never be known. On that night, the boat carrying between 700 and 800 migrants, most of them African, capsized as a civilian freighter approached.
Most passengers were locked below decks and only 28 survived.
The sinking sparked renewed outrage and soul-searching in European capitals, which then agreed to send in EU naval reinforcements to cast a wider safety net to try to rescue the waves of migrants leaving Libya on smugglers' boats.
While tens of thousands have been rescued, thousands of others have drowned. During one particularly deadly three-day period last month, an estimated 700 migrants died, including those aboard a huge, overcrowded fishing ship that capsized as rescuers filmed the horror.
Most of the migrant boats that sink are never recovered, and the dead are never exhumed or identified.
But soon after the 2015 tragedy, Italy pledged to recover the wreck and is hoping that the exercise will help create a European network to identify victims by cross-checking data.
The navy launched the complicated recovery operation this past spring; navy divers over the previous months had already recovered some 169 bodies found near the wreckage, located some 85 miles off Libya's coast.
The navy used a specially designed robotic apparatus to raise the boat, which was being towed to port in Sicily by the navy barge Ievoli Ivory.
Meanwhile, Serbian police have arrested five suspected people smugglers and found 170 migrants as part of an international effort to curb the illegal transfer of migrants towards Western Europe.
The 36-hour operation spread over several European and Balkan countries resulted in a total of 39 arrests and the discovery of 580 migrants.
Countries dealing with Europe's migrant crisis have increased co-operation to stop the flow of migrants after more than a million people entered Europe in 2015. People smuggling has been on the rise since Balkan countries closed their borders to migrants in March.
Serbian police say the joint action included police from Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Switzerland and Europol.