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Italy Drops Illegal-Detention Hypothesis in Deadly Shipwreck

  • Associated Press

Italian prosecutor Giovanni Salvi, right, speaks during a press conference in Catania, Sicily, Southern Italy, May 19, 2015.

Italian prosecutor Giovanni Salvi, right, speaks during a press conference in Catania, Sicily, Southern Italy, May 19, 2015.

Authorities won't seek charges of illegal detention against two alleged smugglers in connection with a Mediterranean shipwreck believed to have killed more than 800 migrants, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Survivors of the tragedy initially said the smugglers had locked hundreds of migrants in the hold, but prosecutor Giovanni Salvi said authorities have since determined that the doors were closed but not locked.

"It's true that the migrants were in the holds and that some hatches were closed. They were closed in order to let other people get on the deck, because they have been all crammed on that boat. But they weren't locked inside, as we understood at the beginning," Salvi told a news conference.

Many of the victims were believed to have perished inside the overcrowded fisherman's boat when it sank near the Libyan coast on April 18. Just 28 migrants survived and only 24 bodies were recovered.

Two alleged smugglers, including a Tunisian navigator, are being held for investigation of possible charges of causing a shipwreck, multiple counts of manslaughter and aiding and abetting illegal immigration.

Salvi said he won't seek to have the ship recovered from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea for the investigation, citing its depth, the strong current and the likelihood that few bodies would still be recoverable. He said it would be up to the Italian government to decide whether to search for the victims for humanitarian reasons.

European Union nations approved plans Monday for a naval operation that will go after the human trafficking networks that are sending thousands of migrants weekly across the Mediterranean toward Europe or to their deaths.

The International Organization for Migration estimates that nearly 1,830 migrants have died on the sea route to Europe this year compared to just over 200 in the same period last year.

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