Rescue operation conducted by the Poseidon ship, which in 2015 intercepted a boat in the Strait of Sicily with 50 corpses onboard. PHOTO/ARCHIVE/EPA
Rescue operation conducted by the Poseidon ship, which in 2015 intercepted a boat in the Strait of Sicily with 50 corpses onboard. PHOTO/ARCHIVE/EPA

Seven migrants accused of aiding and abetting clandestine migration and multiple homicide were acquitted by the Palermo Court of Assizes. The case was over their role in the August 2015 shipwreck in which at least 56 people lost their lives.

The ship became known as the ''boat of death." Onboard there were about 300 migrants and underneath, in the hold, were 56 corpses. The macabre discovery was made by the crew of the Swedish ship Poseidon, which intercepted the sinking boat in the Strait of Sicily in August 2015.

The corpses and survivors were taken to Palermo and the prosecution had managed - with the help of witnesses - to identify the alleged eight traffickers. Seven of the alleged traffickers were adults and the other was under age 18, all of whom have been charged with multiple counts of homicide, sinking a ship and aiding and abetting clandestine migration. 

On Wednesday, the Palermo Court of Assizes acquitted all of the adult defendants even though the prosecutor had requested a life sentence for five of them. A 17-year-old Tunisian underwent a separate trial and was found guilty in a juvenile court. 

Court's decision 

The Court Of Assizes, which opted for an acquittal due to a lack of evidence, said that the witness statements given by survivors - who accused the defendants - were not reliable. This is a theory supported also by the lawyers of the alleged traffickers, who held that the survivors had accused their travel companions to get preferential treatment in the process to be granted humanitarian protection. 

Autopsies on the corpses showed that some of the victims had been stabbed and beaten by the traffickers in the attempt to get them to come up on deck and leave the hold. Some had instead died of gas inhalation from the exhaust of the boat's engine.  

2013 massacre, deeds transferred to prosecution 

In another sinking of a migrant boat in the Mediterranean Sea in October 2013, which cost the lives of hundreds of people, a Rome judge has sent the deeds of the judicial proceedings to the prosecutor's office for the outlining of charges of negligence and manslaughter against two officials: The commander in charge of the operating room of the Coast Guard, Leopoldo Manna, and the commander of the operating room of the Navy team, Luca Licciardi. The case is complex and began from an investigation into alleged delays in rescue operations. 

Initially, the prosecutor has asked that the case be shelved but the preliminary investigative judge has ordered that the case go forward. As concerns the position of Lieutenant Commander Catia Pellegrino - commander of the navy ship Libra, which on the day of the disaster was the closest to the place where the boat sank - it seems likely that the case against her will be shelved.

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