ROME: An Italian police official announced on Wednesday that a fourth person suspected of human trafficking had been arrested in connection with the shipwreck off southern Italy last month, in which at least 72 people perished.
According to the official, who provided no further details, the suspect, a 27-year-old Turkish national, was apprehended in Austria on Tuesday evening after he escaped the scene of the disaster in the early hours of February 26.
One Turk and two Pakistanis, all suspected of being traffickers, were detained soon after the sinking when survivors gave their descriptions to police.
Approximately 180 migrants set sail from Turkiye on February 22; five days later, the overcrowded wooden boat capsized off the coast of Italy, within sight of the village of Steccato di Cutro.
At this time, 72 bodies have been found, including those of 28 children and 30 women. There were 79 survivors, and about 30 people are still missing.
After hearing that their loved ones’ bodies would be transported to a Muslim cemetery in Bologna, to the north, relatives of the deceased staged a protest outside a sports hall in the nearby town of Crotone.
The majority of the victims were Afghan citizens, and their families have asked that their remains be returned there.
The Italian government assured the families on Wednesday that their wishes would be honored, but admitted that arranging a flight to Afghanistan was difficult and that the burial in Bologna was only a temporary solution.
The Ministry of the Interior has stated that this action is only temporary and not permanent. For each family, we will do as they ask… The Italian government has said it will pay for any costs associated with a requested repatriation of a body.
Two separate investigations have been opened into the tragedy: one into the traffickers, and another into whether or not Italian authorities did enough to prevent the tragedy.
After receiving word from a plane operated by the European Union’s Frontex border force that the boat was approaching southern Italy in rough seas, the Italian government was accused of delaying a rescue operation.
On Tuesday, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said that the coast guard in Italy “operated in a correct fashion” and that Frontex had not reported any navigational issues with the boat.
On Thursday, Meloni is scheduled to hold a cabinet meeting in Cutro, where he is likely to approve legislation toughening penalties for human traffickers.