Lampedusa Disaster: Alleged Boat Captain Held, Death Toll Reaches 275

Image: Lampedusa Disaster: Alleged Boat Captain Held, Death Toll Reaches 275 Coffins in the Lampedusa airport hangar of the 170 found victims.

Wednesday, 09 Oct 2013 06:02 PM

By Ken Mandel

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Following the shipwreck disaster near the island of Lampedusa, a 35-year-old Tunisian man is being held by Italian officials under suspicion that he captained the boat carrying African migrants.

More bodies have also since been recovered from the Oct. 3 shipwreck, bringing the death toll to 275, or more than half of the estimated 500 migrant-workers who sought asylum when the journey began.

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Only 155 people are believed to have survived, according to multiple reports.

"Inside, we're finding more women than men. ... We hope not, but we expect to find more children," Gianni Dessi, the coast guard official coordinating the diving operation, told Sky TG24, according to The Associated Press.

Those who made it largely hailed from the African nation of Eritrea, and swam for their lives or were rescued by fishermen or the Italian coast guard.

"For five hours we were floating, using the dead bodies of our companions," survivor Germani Nagassi, 30, told CNN. "There is nothing worse than this. There were many children. There was a mother with her four children, a mother with an infant, all lost at sea. My mind is scarred and in a terrible condition."

The alleged captain was transferred from Lampedusa to Argrigento by ferry under police custody. He faces charges of aiding illegal immigration, multiple counts of manslaughter, and causing a shipwreck, prosecutors told United Press International. If convicted, he could spend at least 20 years in prison.

The tragedy is among the worst migrant ship disasters in the Mediterranean. A boat carrying up to 300 Libyan migrants sank in similar rough waters off the Italian coast in April 2011, and most of the passengers were lost.

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Related stories:

Witness: Boat Migrants Used Bottles to stay Afloat

Pope Chooses Immigrant-Flooded Island for First Trip

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