Italian judge keeps migrant disaster ship skipper behind bars

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CATANIA, Italy: The Tunisian captain of a migrant boat in which at least 700 people drowned is to remain behind bars as an Italian judge continues his inquiry into the deadly disaster.

A judge in the Sicilian city of Catania on Friday ruled that Mohammed Ali Malek, 27, should be kept in detention along with his alleged deputy, Syrian national Mahmud Bikhit, who is 25.

The judge conducting the preliminary probe will Saturday question further witnesses, notably on allegations of violence even before the ship left shore, before ruling on the exact charges to be laid against the two.

Malek was in charge of the 20-meter (66-foot) former fishing boat that capsized and sank off Libya in the early hours of Sunday after a collision with a container ship that had answered a distress call.


Malek, who faces a potential indictment for culpable homicide and causing a shipwreck, stands accused of causing the collision through steering mistakes and of allowing the boat to put to sea with far too many people on board.

Survivors say he was armed with a baton and a pistol.

Prosecutors also want him to be charged with illegal confinement on the basis of testimony from survivors that hundreds of those on board were locked into either the hold or a lower deck.

Survivors said Friday that two Somali crewmen had the keys to the hold but that they drowned when the boat capsized.

The skipper is also alleged to have been drinking and smoking hashish whilst in charge of the boat.

Prosecutors have asked for him to be charged only with aiding and abetting illegal immigration and his lawyers were expected to argue that he had been a migrant enlisted to help crew the ship rather than a member of the people-smuggling network responsible for organizing the voyage.

AFP

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