Italy arrested three Libyans and two Algerians on Friday accused of multiple homicide and human trafficking in connection with the presumed death by drowning of more than 200 migrants after a ship capsized in the Mediterranean, police said.
The five were put under formal arrest in Palermo after being questioned on Thursday. Police say migrants were beaten and stabbed during the voyage, with many locked in the hold.
The migrants drowned when the boat flipped over as the Irish navy ship LE Niamh approached, probably because desperate passengers surged to one side as they spotted the ship.
Police said accused men, who ranged in age from 21 to 24, charged the migrants between $1,200 and $1,800 for the voyage, depending on where they would be placed on the boat, which was carrying some 650 people when it capsized off the Libyan coast. Those in the hold paid less, police said.
More than 400 migrants were rescued by Italian and Irish ships. Police accused the men after speaking to many of the survivors during the night after they arrived in Palermo.
In April, a 20-metre (66-foot) vessel capsized as it approached a merchant ship that had come to its assistance, and up to 900 people were killed.
It was the deadliest shipwreck in the Mediterranean for decades and a symbol of Europe’s long-running migrant crisis.