Italian prosecutors drop hypothesis that smugglers locked 100s of migrants in ship that sank

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Italian prosecutor Giovanni Salvi, center, is flanked by Catania Police chief Marcello Cardona, left, and deputy prosecutor Andrea Bonomo, as he speaks during a press conference in Catania, Sicily, Southern Italy, Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Giovanni Salvi says authorities have dropped a possible charge of illegal detention against two alleged smugglers being held in connection with a shipwreck believed to have killed more than 800 migrants. Prosecutor Giovanni Salvi told reporters Tuesday that investigators now believe that the doors were closed to secure the boat and not to detain hundreds of migrants on two lower decks as prisoners. Many of the victims were believed to have perished closed inside the overcrowded fishermen's boat when it sank near the Libyan coast on April 18. (AP Photo/Carmelo Imbesi)


CATANIA, Sicily — Authorities won't seek charges of illegal detention against two alleged smugglers in connection with a Mediterranean shipwreck believed to have killed more than 800 migrants, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Survivors of the tragedy initially said the smugglers had locked hundreds of migrants in the hold, but prosecutor Giovanni Salvi said authorities have since determined that the doors were closed but not locked.

"It's true that the migrants were in the holds and that some hatches were closed. They were closed in order to let other people get on the deck, because they have been all crammed on that boat. But they weren't locked inside, as we understood at the beginning," Salvi told a news conference.

Many of the victims were believed to have perished inside the overcrowded fisherman's boat when it sank near the Libyan coast on April 18. Just 28 migrants survived and only 24 bodies were recovered.

Two alleged smugglers, including a Tunisian navigator, are being held for investigation of possible charges of causing a shipwreck, multiple counts of manslaughter and aiding and abetting illegal immigration.

Salvi said he won't seek to have the ship recovered from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea for the investigation, citing its depth, the strong current and the likelihood that few bodies would still be recoverable. He said it would be up to the Italian government to decide whether to search for the victims for humanitarian reasons.

European Union nations approved plans Monday for a naval operation that will go after the human trafficking networks that are sending thousands of migrants weekly across the Mediterranean toward Europe or to their deaths.

The International Organization for Migration estimates that 1,820 migrants have died or gone missing on the sea route to Europe this year compared to just over 200 in the same period last year.

So far this month, 12,460 migrants have arrived in Italy bringing the total this year to 38,690, according to the IOM. Some 200 rescued at sea were being brought to Sicily Tuesday afternoon.

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