Italian navy recovers 118 bodies from April shipwreck

Four-month operation recovers 118 bodies from boat that sank in April carrying 800 refugees

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Italian coastguard personnel in protective clothing carry the body of a dead refugee off their ship Bruno Gregoretti in Senglea, in Valletta's Grand Harbour on April 20, 2015

Following a four-month underwater operation, the Italian navy declared on Thursday that they recovered 118 bodies from the wreck of a fishing boat that sank in April, with more than 800 refugees on board.

The bodies were recovered from the seabed around the boat, but there may be other bodies trapped under the deck.

The technical analysis on the 20-metre (65.5 ft) shipwreck has been completed, which made the way for the recovery of the boat as Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi promised, the navy said in a statement.

The fishing boat was above its capacity. The overcrowded boat capsized and sank, as it reached a merchant ship that had come to assist it.

The shipwreck is about 135-km (85 miles) north of Libya at a depth of about 370-metres (1,214 ft), the navy said.

More than 820 people were killed when an overcrowded boat capsized off Libya on April 19, the highest number of migrant victims to be killed in the same day in the Mediterranean sea.

Following the incident, Italian police have said that Captain Mohammed Ali Malek and crew member Mahmud Bikhit have been charged over estimated deaths of the 820 people off Libya’s coast.

The shipwreck became a symbol of the refugee crisis in Europe, as it is known to be the deadliest incident the Mediterranean has witnessed in decades. It also incited that the European Union is to expand its rescue plan off the Libyan coast.

In June, the navy started to use remote-controlled submersibles to pull out bodies from around the shipwreck.

After the recovery, the navy said that they laid a wreath on the deck of the sunken boat with the help of a robotic arm.

Details have not been provided yet over the following recovery of the boat.

Attempts by refugees to cross illegally into Europe by boat have been a major problem, since recent tensions and conflicts have risen and worsened in the Middle East and West Africa. The severity of the problem led European Union foreign ministers to meet in Luxembourg, a day after the latest Mediterranean tragedy, to discuss the issue.

TRTWorld and agencies