Italian police arrested five men on Tuesday on suspicion murdering and throwing overboard up to 60 migrants crossing from Libya after a fight broke out on board a fishing boat being used to smuggle men, women and children into Italy.
Reuters reports that survivors told police a life-and-death fight broke out when those who were riding in the hold, suffocating from heat and lack of oxygen, desperately tried to find room on the packed deck.
The 60 are thought to have been stabbed before being thrown overboard, while another 29 people died of suffocation after being forced back into the boat’s hold, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. Aid organization Borderline Europe told The Local that this is not the first time migrants have reportedly been deliberately killed on overcrowded boats, but that this appeared to be the worst case so far.
Investigators established that a double tariff system applied to the sea voyage, with migrants of Arab origin paying $1,000 to $2,000 (£587 to £1,174) for a place on deck and Africans paying $250 to $500 (£147 to £294) for a passage in the hold, according to the Times of Malta.
Police said: “According to the testimony of ‘numerous’ migrants, the five men – two Moroccans, a Saudi Arabian, a Syrian and a Palestinian – ‘randomly’ assaulted dozens with knives and their fists, throwing overboard their victims as friends and relatives watched,” Reuters reported.
A further three men were charged with people smuggling.
Dozens more migrants, including a two-year-old child, are feared to have drowned as they were transferred to a Danish freighter from the fishing boat, which is said to have been carrying between 700 and 750 people, in a stampede to reach the rescue vessel.
The boat carrying the 29 dead bodies was towed to Malta, while the survivors were taken to Italy.
Malta Today said autopsies would be performed on the bodies and DNA samples taken. Since no documents were found on board the boat that can identify any of the victims, each of the victims will be given a referral number.
The bodies will be kept for a period of time in case anyone comes forward to make identification. After that, each of the dead will be buried in an individual grave in case anyone comes forward in the future to claim the remains.
On Monday, Italian authorities recovered another five bodies while rescuing 61 migrants from a sinking boat south of Sicily.
According to Ansa: “The two incidents are only the latest in a long series of migrant disasters, as Italy struggles to cope this year with a huge increase in the already big flow of migrants to attempt the hazardous crossing from North Africa.”
Monday’s rescue was conducted as part of the Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) operation Italy launched after some 400 migrants died in two separate disasters in October.
As Breitbart London reported earlier this month, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi wants the European Union to take more responsibility for the tens of thousands of migrants who are pouring into his country from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa via Libya: “It is unacceptable that a boat filled with children is allowed to sink only because it is not clear who’s responsible for it,” he said.