Rescuers picked up 560 migrants from unsafe boats off the Libyan coast, Italy’s Coast Guard said, including the body of a young man migrants said was shot by smugglers on the beach for his baseball cap.
Italian Navy and Coast Guard boats participated in the rescues along with humanitarian vessels, a spokesman said. The migrants were travelling on two large rubber boats and five small wooden ones, he added.
The Phoenix, a rescue ship operated by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), took 422 on board, plus the body of the allegedly murdered young Gambian.
“According to eyewitnesses, the deceased teenager was killed by human traffickers because they wanted his baseball hat. What cruelty,” MOAS co-founder Chris Catrambone said. “The medical team aboard Phoenix confirmed the teenager died from gunshot wound,” he added.
MOAS doctors are also caring for another teenage boy with a gunshot wound to the stomach, but is stable. German non-governmental organisation Jugend Rettet also helped with the rescues.
Separately, Doctors Without Borders said its rescue ship Prudence would arrive in the Sicilian port of Catania on Friday with the corpses of six migrants, including five women, it had picked up in the Mediterranean in recent days.
There was a pause in boat departures from Libya since Easter, because of bad weather and sea conditions. But boat migrant arrivals in Italy are still up 30% so far this year from 2016, when a record 181,000 arrived.
Humanitarian rescue ships have come in for criticism in Italy in recent months, with Catania chief prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro opening a fact-finding investigation into possible ties between NGOs and people-smugglers.
The NGOs deny the accusations, including representatives from MOAS who testified in Italy’s parliament. They say their only mission is to save lives.
Zuccaro has yet to present any evidence of illicit activities and has not opened a criminal investigation.