Italian police on Thursday said 12 African migrants had died after being thrown overboard by fellow passengers in the latest high-seas tragedy in the Mediterranean, as another 41 boat migrants were feared drowned in a separate incident.
Police in the Sicilian port of Palermo said they had arrested 15 Muslim migrants suspected of attacking Christian passengers after a religious row on a boat headed for Italy, which is struggling to cope with a huge spike in illegal migrants arriving on its shores.
The 12 victims were all Nigerians and Ghanaians while the 15 suspects came from Senegal, Mali and Ivory Coast. They were charged with “multiple aggravated murder motivated by religious hate,” according to a police statement.
Distraught survivors, who set off from Libya on Tuesday before being rescued by an Italian vessel on Wednesday, told a “dreadful” story of “forcefully resisting attempts to drown them, forming a veritable human chain in some cases,” police said.
Nigerian and Ghanaian survivors told police a group of Muslim passengers on the boat, which was carrying around 100 people, began threatening the Nigerians and Ghanaians after they declared themselves to be Christians. “The threats then materialised and 12 people, all Nigerian and Ghanaian, are believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean,” the police statement added.
In another drama, 41 migrants were missing feared drowned on after their dinghy sank en route to Italy, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said, mere days after 400 migrants are believed to have died in another shipwreck off the coast of Libya.
The four survivors in Thursday’s shipwreck, who came from Nigeria, Ghana and Niger, said their boat sank after setting sail from Libya with 45 people on board.
Their vessel was spotted by a plane, which alerted the Italian coastguard, but by the time a navy ship arrived to help them only four passengers were found alive.