Smuggling group sentenced to decades in jail by Italian courts

The Italian Supreme Court of Cassation has sentenced three smugglers to 20 years each in jail in connection with a boat tragedy that took the lives of 49 migrants in August 2015. The appeal against the ruling by the Catania Court has been declared inadmissible.

Their five associates have already been sentenced to a total of 120 years in prison. They are now awaiting their appeal trial.

The incident that led all eight men to be charged with voluntary homicide took  place on 15 August 2015. Italian military ship the Cigala Fulgosi responded to a distress call and reached the boat before dawn in the Strait of Sicily to discover 49 migrants had already died due to negligence. The boat had left the western Libyan city of Zwara sometime after dark the previous evening.

The Cigala Fulgosi then transferred the 313 rescued migrants and bodies of victims to the Norwegian navy ship Siem Pilot. The migrants aboard the boat were from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. 

The overcrowded 15-metre fishing boat began sinking within hours of its departure and by the time rescuers reached the area, it was partially immersed in water. Fuel fumes filled the windowless hold and asphyxiated 49 of the men inside. The victims were primarily married men who had given spots on the deck to their wives.

“The heat in the hold was unbearable, especially in the area close to the engine, which was leaking fumes and fuel. Some migrants managed to reach the deck. They told us that they didn’t even have any water to drink. Those who were close to the engine could not move and started to die one by one. When the rescuers arrived, they found a horrific situation,” said Flavio di Giacomo of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) shortly after the incident.

According to charges by Italian prosecutors, the eight men kicked, punched, and used belts on the migrants in the hold, “body-blocking the hatches that would have allowed passage to the upper bridge” and therefore “causing death due to lack of oxygen” of the 49 migrants.

The three defendants were from Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. They were accused of facilitating illegal immigration and homicide. The three men said they were innocent.

The other five alleged members of the crew are on appeal trial before the Catania Court of Assizes of Appeal. 

TMP – 25/04/2019

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Photo caption: The Norwegian ship Siem Pilot carrying 312 survivors and the bodies of 49 migrants who died in the hold arrives in Catania, Italy. 17 August 2015.