The captain of the 20-meter fishing boat carrying 850 migrants from Africa to Italy that capsized in the Mediterranean Sea has been arrested on charges of “reckless shipwreck, multiple manslaughter (and) abetting clandestine immigration,” an Italian prosecutor’s office announced on Tuesday.
Mohammed Ali Malek, the 27-year-old Tunisian sea captain, along with one of his crew members, faces the charges in the aftermath of the shipwreck that killed hundreds and left only 28 survivors. His errors might very well have caused the capsizing of the fishing boat under his command, as well as its later collision with the “King Jacob,” a merchant ship that came to its rescue.
“Only the commander of the fishing vessel and its crew are suspected of causing the crime,” the Catania prosecutor’s office said. Authorities had previously debated whether the well-intentioned merchant ship could have caused the other vessel’s capsizing either by touching it or by producing a big wave that led it to tip over. The “King Jacob” saved 22 of the 28 survivors.
About 24 bodies had been recovered as of Monday. The vast majority of the victims are believed to be still inside the sunken boat.
This tragedy has focused a spotlight on the ongoing problem of the “industry” of dangerous, exploitative and illegal immigration to European ports. So far this year, approximately 1,776 people have died or gone missing in the sea that touches Europe, North Africa and parts of the Middle East, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Around 36,390 people have safely reached Italy, Greece and Malta since the beginning of 2015. The migrants seeking a new life in Europe are predominantly Syrian refugees fleeing their country’s civil war, as well as Eritreans, Somalis, Afghanis and Nigerians.
Altogether commercial ships and Italian navy and coast guard vessels rescued a total of 155,000 people in the Mediterranean sea last year.