The Tunisian captain of a boat that capsized off Libya on Sunday, killing hundreds of migrants, has been charged with reckless multiple homicide, Italian officials say.
He has also been charged along with a Syrian member of the crew with facilitating illegal immigration. The two were among 27 survivors who arrived in Sicily late on Monday, and were arrested while still on board the Italian coastguard ship, according to officials.
The two men charged in connection with the disaster have been named as ship commander Mohammed Ali Malek, 27, a Tunisian, and crew member Mahmud Bikhit, 25, a Syrian.
The disaster was caused by mistakes made by the captain and the fact that the ship was overcrowded. Prosecutors in the Sicilian port of Catania said the boat had collided with a Portuguese container ship just before it capsized, but absolved the merchant vessel’s crew of any responsibility.
They said the boat had keeled over after the collision which had been caused by steering mistakes by the captain and the panicked movements of the migrants on the 20-metre (66ft) former fishing trawler.
There were nationals of Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Mali, Sierra Leone and Senegal on board, kept in three different layers in the boat. The bottom layer of the boat contained mainly children. They all perished. Survivors who were able to speak said they managed to survive by clinging to the dead bodies and using them as floats.
Of course, the main immediate concern is to ensure that no further lives are lost. It is claimed that up to ONE MILLION people are waiting on the shores of Libya awaiting transportation to Europe by the perilous route to Sicily, Lampedusa or Malta. Some have travelled for up to a year just to get to this point.
The EU is stepping up its patrol operations and attempts to bring to justice those boat owners who trade in human misery. There has been a blistering attack on the decision last year to scale down Italy’s Mare Nostrum search and rescue programme.
These poor people are escaping war zones, persecution, tyrannical regimes. They do not want to leave the land of their birth. They have no choice.
Even if this route is patrolled successfully and unseaworthy boats destroyed, other routes will be found to circumvent the patrols. These refugees are not risk averse; the sea journey is just the last of many they have made, and it is impossible to assess how many have already died along the way. Already there are reports of new routes via Rhodes and Crete.
On a humanitarian level, I believe we are all responsible for each other. It is just accident of birth that it was not you nor me in that makeshift ship. But of course it’s naive to suggest that Europe could assimilate all those who wish to come, even if there existed the political will to do so.
The ONLY long term solution lies in stabilising the countries we have helped to destabilise. The blame game seems easy, but the deeper you go, the more murky it gets.
After 9/11, I believe quite legitimately we entered Afghanistan in search of Bin Laden, with the additional aim of destroying Al Qaeda. But then Bush with Blair on his coat tails prosecuted what I believe to be an illegal war in Iraq. Our PM lied to Parliament, lied to the British people about WMDs, and the result was hundreds of thousands dead, and no plan for life after the overthrow of Saddam.
Britain, France and the US bombed Libya, in response to the slaughter in Benghazi but with Gaddafi deposed, the country quickly became lawless, and the previously patrolled shores were abandoned.
Then we have the so called Arab Spring, where the West encouraged Middle Eastern countries to overthrow the tyrannical regimes and replace them with democracy. But what do these people know of democracy? Democracy is born when all people of all dispositions decide to compromise, and accept that compromise as law.
But before we indulge in too much self- flagellation, the West cannot assume total responsibility for the rise of ISIS. Yes, we assisted in destabilising the whole area, but we did not promote or condone the barbarity, cruelty and basic disregard for human life in the new Islamic State, based on an extreme and perverted view of Islam.
That Putin may be involved and that we may find ourselves fighting a war by proxy is a subject for another day. What is clear that after past mistakes, and elections in Europe looming, there is little appetite for boots on the ground, though ultimately it may result in just that.
Europe alone is not responsible and nor can it be for the placement and assimilation of millions of people. A worldwide UN backed programme is desperately needed to stabilise an area where it seems everybody is at war with somebody.
That there are innocent people just hoping to have a future can no longer be ignored.