Police arrest ‘knife-wielding traffickers’ after migrant shipwreck

The overcrowded vessel was believed to have had more than 600 migrants onboard when it began the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, before getting into trouble and overturning on Wednesday (File Photo: AP)

Italian police arrested five men Friday accused of multiple murders and human trafficking following a deadly shipwreck off the coast of Libya which left more than 200 people feared drowned.

Two Libyans, two Algerians and a Tunisian were held by police after survivors of Wednesday’s shipwreck were brought to Sicily, as testimony emerged as to how the suspects had beaten and stabbed passengers during the perilous crossing, blocking many people in the ship’s hold.

Police issued a correction after earlier saying three of the suspects, aged between 21 and 24-years-old, hailed from Libya.

The overcrowded vessel was believed to have had more than 600 migrants onboard when it began the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, before getting into trouble and overturning on Wednesday.

Rescuers pulled 373 men, women and children from the water, but more than 200 others were feared lost to the waves.

Police said “the criminals each took on a clear role,” with one in charge and the others tasked with controlling the migrants through violence.

Survivors told them migrants from Africa had been put in the hold, and that “they could be closed in and compacted in the hull for three days, having paid half price for the crossing.”

When water began seeping in, "the migrants, on the traffickers' orders, tried desperately to get rid of it," the police said in a statement.

When that failed “they did everything to try and get out to save themselves, but instead were attacked with knifes and sticks, pushed back into the hull,” at which point the traffickers “sealed the hatch, with the weight of the rest of the migrants, positioned on purpose to stop it reopening.”

Rescuers said they feared at least 100 people were trapped below deck when the boat overturned, and would have immediately drowned.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:46 - GMT 06:46
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