Skipper found guilty for 700 migrant deaths

12:51 pm on 14 December 2016

A Tunisian man has been found guilty by a court in Sicily of causing the sinking of a boat in which 700 migrants died in April 2015.

Mohammed Ali Malek (L), the captain of the migrant boat that capsized in the Mediterranean sea killing 700, pictured on the Italian coastguard's ship after being rescued.

Mohammed Ali Malek (L), the captain of the migrant boat that capsized in the Mediterranean sea killing 700, pictured on the Italian coastguard's ship after being rescued. Photo: AFP

Mohammed Ali Malek, who had denied being the boat's captain, was sentenced to 18 years in jail. He was also convicted of manslaughter and human trafficking. A Syrian was handed a five-year sentence.

The heavily overcrowded boat sank off Libya after colliding with a merchant vessel that had come to its rescue.

Only 28 people survived the disaster.

Many of those who died had been crammed into the hold of the fishing boat and locked inside.

Most of the victims on the 27m-long boat were from countries including Mali, Gambia, Senegal and Ethiopia. Among the survivors were two young Bangladeshis who took part in the case as civil plaintiffs.

Malek had denied being captain of the boat when it rammed the side of King Jacob merchant vessel as it came to the trawler's aid in international waters. Prosecutors at the court in Catania said his control of the boat had been "naive, careless and negligent".

He drew the BBC a diagram, arguing that the fishing boat had lost balance because of waves created by the King Jacob's propeller.

Mahmoud Bikhit, a Syrian accused of being a crew member, was also convicted by the court on Tuesday and given five years in jail.

The scale of the disaster prompted the EU to rethink its response to the migrant crisis unfolding in the Mediterranean.

However, the numbers of people crossing to Italy in unsafe boats from North African countries has risen this year to 175,244, the UN says. The number of fatalities in the Mediterranean has also risen to 4742, an increase of almost 1000 on 2015.

A ship carrying 854 migrants rescued off the Libyan coast was due to arrive on the Italian island of Sardinia on Tuesday. The vast majority were men from sub-Saharan and North Africa.

- BBC

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