First 13 Victims From April 18 Tragedy Wreck Buried

The first 13 bodies recovered form the wreck of the April 18 tragedy at a depth of 375 metres, all Eritrean men less than 30 years old, were buried today in Catania.

Flowers for the 13 unnamed victims of the April 18 tragedy in which some 850 migrants are believed to have lost their lives.

Flowers for the 13 unnamed victims of the April 18 tragedy in which some 850 migrants are believed to have lost their lives.

The bodies were recovered in an operation being carried out by the Italian navy which started last week from a 20-metre wreck  which is believed to have taken down with it some 850 migrants in the biggest such tragedy on record since WWII.

April 18 tragedy shipwerck

The first sonar image of the 20-metre wreck. Photo: Marina Militare ItalianaThey were transferred to Catania earlier this week and are expected to be buried in coffins that were confiscated from the Sicilian mafia in an unrelated police operation.

Specialised remotely-operated vehicles (ROV) are being used to recover the bodies. So far the operation is concentrated on recovering bodies that are outside around the vessel, resting on the seabed, Italian military sources told Migrant Report.

“Now the images recovered from the ROVs are being looked at to see how feasible it is to recover the bodies inside the vessel or perhaps recover the entire boat,” the source said, cautioning that the latter option would be a very expensive option.

The vessel was first spotted by the Italian navy on May 8. The wreck was found on the seabed, around 85 miles NorthEast of the Libyan coast.
 Only 28 people made it out alive and so far only 24 bodies have been recovered. They were buried on the island of Malta.

A team of investigative pathologists have examined the bodies and taken tissues to try and reconstruct their DNA in an attempt to identify them. “It’s a slow painstaking process that requires a lot of time and investment but it would give a name to these people who have died nameless,” the source said.

The ROVs are being piloted from onboard the Leonardo, a specialised expedition type vessel of the Italian navy. Bodies one by one and then placed inside what is known as a “Big Bag”, which is then closed and brought to the surface.

The body, is then placed in a special refrigerated container aboard a larger support vessel, the Gorgona,under the supervision of the Italian Red Cross.

The Italian Marina Militare has kept a relatively low profile on the operation after announcing last week that it had started recovering the bodies.

The tragedy shocked Europe and jolted EU leaders into action, forcing the bloc to to expand its search and rescue effort and consider an urgent raft of initiatives designed to avoid loss of life, while at the same time beefing up border security.

Most of the people who died that night were locked in the hold of the vessel, unable to get out. Among the survivors were the alleged smugglers, Mohammed Ali Malek, 27, a Tunisian, and Mahmud Bikhit, 25, a Syrian.

Both were charged in Sicily with multiple homicide a few days after they were brought to the Sicilian port of Catania along with the rest of the survivors on April 20.

Captain Mohammed Ali Malek and crew member Mahmud Bikhit. Photograph- Italian police handout:EPA

The survivors recounted that the captain was likely drunk at the time of the accident and that he caused the disaster because he rammed the wooden boat in the hull of the King Jacob, a Portuguese freighter that had come to their rescue after a May Day call was made.

Malek’s brother had told Reuters the vessel’s captain was a victim himself, having been forced by Libyan smugglers to steer the vessel because he had experience as a fisherman.

The crew of the King Jacob were absolved of any responsibility. They had experienced similar rescues in the past and immediately threw overboard whatever lifejackets and floating aids they had but they were otherwise helpless as the wooden boat went down.