Med trafficking suspect picked up by Irish navy
A SUSPECTED people smuggler who was picked up by the LE Eithne along with 646 desperate migrants has been arrested by Italian Police.
Bairam Ltayef (24), a Tunisian national, was detained in the Sicilian capital Palermo after he was identified by refugees who were interviewed by officers.
It is understood that the crew of the LE Eithne were unaware that the man was a suspected trafficker.
He disembarked in Italy along with the hundreds more rescued from two crowded wooden barges by the Irish ship about 50km off the coast of Libyan capital Tripoli on June 29.
It is estimated that at least 1,850 people have drowned in the Mediterranean this year alone, with many falling victim to people traffickers in their desperation to flee war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
The State Police told the Herald that they "identified and arrested" Mr Ltayef on suspicion that he was the "smuggler" of a boat of migrants.
A statement explained how the LE Eithne arrived in Palermo on June 30 to offload the migrants, with the Italian police meeting the vessel to assist in the processing of the immigrants.
It said that while police officers participate in the conclusion of rescue operations, they are also there to carry out "criminal investigations" and "above all" to identify smugglers.
The statement said that officers interviewed migrants throughout the night, "whose stories have drawn atrocious images of poverty, misery and exploitation".
On the morning of July 1 Mr Ltayef was "recognised by several castaways" and was alleged to be the smuggler of a boat that left Libya with more than 300 migrants on board.
He was arrested and detained in a district prison, the statement added.
A Defence Forces spokesman said he couldn't comment on the case for "operational security reasons".
He said that while the Irish ship is working "very closely with Italian authorities", it is on a "search and rescue mission, a humanitarian mission that we're specifically responsible for.
"Search and rescue and humanitarian only," he added.