BOAT SKIPPER FACING MASS MURDER CHARGE OVER MIGRANT DISASTER

CATANIA: The Tunisian captain of the migrant boat in which 800 people are feared to have drowned is set to be charged with mass murder over the Mediterranean’s deadliest disaster in decades.

Prosecutors in the Sicilian city of Catania said Tuesday they believed Mohammed Ali Malek, 27, was responsible for steering mistakes and the reckless overcrowding which led to the horrifying shipwreck off Libya on Sunday.

He will appear before a judge on Friday along with crew member and Syrian national Mahmud Bikhit, 25, who was also arrested in a probe into a catastrophe that has evoked chilling comparisons with the slave trade and allegations of callous disregard on the part of European governments.

The captain was questioned by investigators Tuesday after being arrested on suspicion of multiple homicide, causing a shipwreck and aiding illegal immigration. Bikhit faces potential charges on the latter count.

Hundreds of the victims, including an unknown number of children, will have died in hellish circumstances having been locked in the hold or the middle deck of the 20-metre (66-foot) boat which keeled over in pitch darkness after colliding with a Portuguese container ship answering its distress call.

The Catania prosecutors said the collision had been caused by steering mistakes by the captain and the panicked movements of the hundreds of passengers.

“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,” they said in a statement.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has described the traffickers who packed their human cargo into the boat as akin to 18th-century slave traders.

Prosecutors said the survivors had told them how they had been held for up to a month in disused factories in Libya before being packed onto the boat. One man was beaten severely with sticks as punishment from moving away from the group to answer a call of nature, according to survivor’s statement.

The UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the horror at sea had been produced by a “monumental failure of compassion” on the part of European governments who are now under intense pressure to address the humanitarian crisis on their southern shores.

SOURCE: Muscat Daily