Finance police in Agrigento stopped six members of the crew of a fishing boat that was towing a boat carrying 68 migrants, charging the crew members with aggravated facilitation of illegal immigration. Authorities said this is a new method that traffickers are using in the Strait of Sicily to transfer illegal migrants from the coasts of North Africa to Sicilian shores.
'Mother' fishing boat, new trafficker technique
The new technique being used by traffickers in the Mediterranean consists of a "mother" fishing boat that departs from Libya towing a boat full of migrants. The fishing boat takes the migrants as far as 40 to 50 miles off the coast of Sicily, then releases the migrant boat to continue towards Italy while the "mother" boat returns to the port of departure.
On November 2, six Egyptians who were part of the crew of a Libyan fishing boat that sailed from the port of Zuwara used this method. They towed the migrant boat, which looked like one of the wooden boats typically used to cast nets at sea, to a place 50 miles off the coast of Lampedusa.
The boat was first spotted by a Frontex border agency aircraft, and then by an Italian Navy helicopter with the ship "Carabiniere", operating as part of the Italian Navy's Operation Mare Sicuro (Safe Sea). Authorities verified that the fishing boat was returning to North Africa and the smaller boat was heading towards Lampedusa. An intervention was activated, coordinated by the finance police, with a naval unit of the Palermo finance police as well as vessels and agents from the port authority and the navy.
Six people investigated by Agrigento prosecutor
The ship "Carabiniere" followed the fishing boat and prevented it from entering Libyan territorial waters. Meanwhile, the migrant boat, with 68 Bengali, Egyptian, and Moroccan migrants, entered Italian waters and was towed to the port of Lampedusa by the finance police patrol boat "Monte Cimone". The Agrigento prosecutor's office opened an investigation, which confirmed that the Libyan fishing boat was the "mother" boat.
Coast guard agents from the finance police boarded the boat, under the cover of riflemen from the San Marco brigade aboard the ship Carabiniere. Once the fishing boat was towed to Lampedusa, further investigations led to an order by the Agrigento prosecutor's office to stop the six Egyptians from the crew.