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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Police arrest captain of trafficking ship after deaths of up to 900 people

Mohammed Ali Malek (R, in white), one of two survivors of Saturday's migrant boat disaster, later arrested on suspicion of people trafficking, is seen watching bodies of dead migrants being disembarked from the Italian coastguard ship Bruno Gregoretti in Senglea in Valletta's Grand Harbour April 20, 2015
Mohammed Ali Malek (R, in white), one of two survivors of Saturday's migrant boat disaster, later arrested on suspicion of people trafficking, is seen watching bodies of dead migrants being disembarked from the Italian coastguard ship Bruno Gregoretti in Senglea in Valletta's Grand Harbour April 20, 2015
Mohammed Ali Malek (C, in white), one of two survivors of Saturday's migrant boat disaster, later arrested on suspicion of people trafficking, is seen watching bodies of dead migrants being disembarked from the Italian coastguard ship Bruno Gregoretti in Senglea in Valletta's Grand Harbour April 20, 2015

Italian authorities have arrested two survivors of last Sunday’s migrant boat disaster on suspicion of people trafficking, Infrastructure Minister Graziano Delrio said today after the men arrived in the Sicilian port of Catania.

Italian police interviewed 27 survivors of the wreck as they were brought to Italy on a coast guard vessel. As many as 900 people are believed to have drowned.

Delrio said Catania state prosecutor Giovanni Salvi, who has opened a homicide investigation into the disaster, ordered the arrest of the two. Officials from the prosecutor’s office said they were the captain of the vessel and his first mate.

“Prosecutor Salvi has made two arrests this evening of persons involved, that shows the Italian justice is working,” Delrio told reporters at the port.

The decision follows further tragic scenes off the Greek island of Rhodes yesterday when another boat sank containing migrants.

Their ramshackle wooden sailboat, with at least 90 people on board, capsized off the Aegean Sea resort’s main beach at Zefyros, drowning three people ,including a young child.

Heads of state will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday that will aim to address the growing crisis.

READ MORE: Smugglers locked victims below deck in disaster as more boats sink

Last night, they promised to extend search-and-rescue missions and to step up efforts against smuggling gangs.

But, while Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s new foreign policy chief, hailed the plans as proof that Europe had “finally” woken up to the crisis, bitter divisions emerged between aid agencies calling for a more open-door policy towards migrants, and governments anxious to address voter concerns over illegal immigration.

Dismay

More than 10,000 migrants have arrived in Italy in less than a fortnight, and as of last night, there were reported to be six separate ongoing operations to save a further 1,500 people on boats.

Fishermen and coast guards who raced to the scene of Sunday’s disaster in the Mediterranean have described their dismay at what they found.

The Italian prosecutor leading the investigation confirmed that most of those on board were forcibly locked in to the hold of the boat.

The 70-ft long vessel, which set out from the coast of Libya, capsized in the early hours of Sunday with the loss of between 700 and 900 people.

The boat had three levels, and only those on the upper level had any chance of surviving when the boat capsized, apparently after migrants rushed to one side of the ship when they saw a passing Portuguese merchant ship they believed would rescue them.

The asylum seekers are believed to have included 200 women and dozens of children. “A few hundred were forced into the hold, the lowest level.

 They were locked in and prevented from coming out,” said Salvi, the prosecutor who is leading the investigation.

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