RASHID, EGYPT - An Egyptian court sentenced 56 people to prison terms of up to 14 years on Sunday over the capsizing of a boat that killed over 200 people, one of the deadliest disasters in the dangerous Mediterranean crossings of migrants to Europe.
The boat capsized off the Egyptian coast on Sept. 21. Rescue workers and fishermen rescued at least 169 people, but at least 202 died.
Fifty-seven people faced charges including causing the accidental death of 202 passengers, not using sufficient rescue equipment, endangering lives, receiving money from the victims, hiding suspects from authorities and using a vessel without a license. One woman was acquitted.
The boat sank in the Mediterranean off Burg Rashid, a village in Egypt's northern Beheira province where the sea and the Nile meet. It had been carrying Egyptian, Sudanese, Eritrean and Somali migrants and was believed to be heading for Italy.
One month after the boat sank Egypt's parliament passed legislation setting prison terms and fines for those found guilty of smuggling migrants, acting as brokers or facilitating migrants' journeys.
A record 5,000 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean last year, aid agencies have said. In the worst known incident, around 500 African migrants and their children died when a fishing boat capsized off Egypt's coast in April.
Since Turkey and the European Union reached an agreement a year ago to curb the flow of migrants and refugees sailing from Turkish shores to Greece, most migrant journeys have taken the more dangerous route from north Africa to Italy.
In Libya, people traffickers have operated with relative ease, but many migrants and refugees also set off from Egypt.