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Two survivors arrested as 800 die in migrant ship disaster

The two arrested are suspected to be traffickers.

Italian Coast Guard officers disembark the body of a dead migrant off the ship Bruno Gregoretti.
Italian Coast Guard officers disembark the body of a dead migrant off the ship Bruno Gregoretti.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

Updated 11.08am

ITALIAN POLICE HAVE arrested two suspected people traffickers among the survivors of the migrant boat that capsized off Libya on Sunday, as the UN said 800 people were killed in the Mediterranean’s worst migrant disaster.

They said they had detained a Tunisian man believed to be the captain of the vessel and a Syrian allegedly the first mate of the ship.

The two seamen have not been formally charged.

Trafficking 

Both face charges of people trafficking.

Under-fire EU ministers meanwhile agreed on a 10-point plan to double the resources available to the current EU border surveillance mission Triton, as the UN’s refugee agency and the International Organisation for Migration recounted what those onboard had witnessed.

“We can say that 800 are dead,” said Carlotta Sami, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Italy today, citing the survivors’ accounts of the deadly crossing.

Malta Europe Migrants Survivors of the smuggler's boat that overturned off the coasts of Libya lie on the deck of the Italian Coast Guard ship Bruno Gregoretti, in Valletta's Grand Harbour. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Those who escaped with their lives described to officials the moment the 20-metre trawler carrying them capsized after a Portuguese merchant ship approached the vessel, causing a stampede.

There were a little over 800 people on board, including children aged between 10 and 12. There were Syrians, about 150 Eritreans, Somalians… They had left Tripoli at about 8 am on Saturday.

The survivors hailed from Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Somalia, Eritrea and Bangladesh, she added, and all had been taken to nearby holding centres.

One other survivor was taken to hospital in Catania, on Sicily’s east coast.

 ’No more excuses’ 

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini had unveiled plans earlier Monday to tackle the growing migrant crisis after telling member states they had “no more excuses” not to act.

Even as EU foreign and interior ministers met in Luxembourg to discuss ways to stem the flood of people trying to reach Europe, the International Organisation for Migration said it had received a distress call from another boat — but cautioned against concluding this was another disaster in the making.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said separately that Italy’s coast guard had asked merchant shipping to come to the aid of two boats off the Libyan coast with up to 450 migrants on board after they sought help.

Malta Europe Migrants Italian Coast Guard officers prepare disembark the bodies of dead migrant off the ship Bruno Gregoretti, in Valletta's Grand Harbour. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Police in Greece meanwhile reported three people killed, including a child, after a boat coming from Turkey sank off the island of Rhodes.

Dramatic footage showed people trying to reach survivors huddled on a piece of wreckage as they were being swept towards rocks.

Ninety-three people were rescued alive, police said.

Europe’s southern shores have been swamped over the past two weeks with migrants fleeing war and hardship, mostly via conflict-wracked Libya.

More than 11,000 migrants have been rescued by Italian authorities since the middle of last week alone and current trends suggest last year’s total of 170,000 landing in Italy is likely to be exceeded in 2015.

Italy Europe Migrants Activists hold flowers for survivors of the boat. Source: Carmelo Imbesi

Italian and Maltese navy boats meanwhile continued to search for the victims of Sunday’s disaster, which brings to an estimated 1,600 the number of migrants who have drowned in the Mediterranean this year.

Only 28 survivors have been found so far, along with 24 bodies, which were taken to Malta.

The deadliest incident prior to Sunday occurred off Malta in September 2014, when an estimated 500 migrants drowned after traffickers deliberately rammed their boat in an attempt to force the passengers onto a smaller vessel.

- © AFP, 2015 First published 07.20am 

Read: “To send them back is another way of killing them”>

Read: Couple arrested after trying to bring their children to join Islamic State in Syria>

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