Italy court OKs arrest of suspected smuggler captain, crew

AP News
Posted: Apr 24, 2015 4:52 PM
Italy court OKs arrest of suspected smuggler captain, crew

CATANIA, Sicily (AP) — A judge in Sicily on Friday confirmed the arrest warrants against the suspected captain and crew member of the smuggling boat that capsized in the Mediterranean's worst ever migrant disaster.

Mohammad Ali Malek, 27, from Tunisia and suspected crew mate Mahmud Bikhit, 25, of Syria, appeared in a Catania court and were ordered returned to jail.

Prosecutors have accused Malek of inadvertently ramming the overloaded fishing boat into the cargo ship that had come to its rescue, destabilizing it. The boat eventually flipped after migrants rushed to one side trying to get off. Only 28 survived and as many as 800 people are feared dead.

Bikhit attorney Giuseppe Ivo Russo questioned survivors' testimony that his client was a crew member, saying other people on board looked like him.

Also Friday, the management of the Portuguese-flagged King Jacob cargo ship that came to the migrants' aide released details of the rescue. In a statement, OSM Ship Management GmbH said the container ship had arrived on the scene 17 miles (27 kilometers) off the Libyan shore at about 11 p.m. Saturday after being requested by the Italian coast guard to deviate from its course to rescue a group of migrants.

"For unknown reasons the small vessel suddenly accelerated and headed directly into the King Jacob's port side," the statement said.

After the boat flipped, the 18-member Filipino crew threw life rings into the water, deployed cargo nets, pilot ladders and its own rescue boat, bringing aboard 22 people, the statement said. Another six people were rescued by other ships.

The King Jacob arrived in Palermo port Friday, where a psychologist and priest boarded to provide counseling and support to the traumatized crew.

It was the third time that the King Jacob has been involved in a rescue.