Italian navy ship accused of allowing migrants to drown

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The Independent Online

Sicilian magistrates have seized an amateur video that is expected to cast light on allegations that Italy's navy did little to prevent the deaths of scores of illegal migrants at sea.

Sicilian magistrates have seized an amateur video that is expected to cast light on allegations that Italy's navy did little to prevent the deaths of scores of illegal migrants at sea.

The magistrates have opened an inquiry into alleged manslaughter and failure to help in an accident after more than 50 people, mainly north Africans, drowned on Thursday when their fragile boat overturned in heavy seas off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa. A sailor on board an Italian trawler, the Elide, which was trying to tow the vessel to safety, recorded the rescue on film.

The cassette reportedly shows the bedraggled migrants waving and yelling, "We're safe, we've made it" as the trawler attached the tow line. A short time later the boat was flipped over by a wave.

The crew of the Elide have accused the navyvessel Cassiopea of failing to save lives. "Only after a lot of passengers went under the waves did they put a launch into the water," one fisherman said.

Nine immigrants were rescued by the Elide, while the 1,500-ton Cassiopea saved only two. Six lifeboats were not used.

A law sponsored by the xenophobic Northern League and the "post-fascist" Alleanza Nazionale was passed in the Senate last week. It allows vessels suspected of smuggling migrantsto be turned back, boarded or seized.

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