Tunisian believed captain of wrecked migrant boat to face charges

Oct. 8, 2013 at 3:44 PM
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PALERMO, Italy, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- A Tunisian man has been arrested in the deaths of more than 300 migrants aboard a boat that sank off an Italian island, officials said Tuesday.

Sicilian prosecutors said survivors identified the suspect, Kaled Bensalam, 35, as the captain of the boat, ANSA news agency reported. He faces charges of human trafficking and homicide.

Bensalam may have a role in setting a blanket on fire to call for help when the boat's engine stalled off the coast of Lampedusa, prosecutors said. The fire spread, and the boat capsized when passengers moved to the other side of the vessel to escape the blaze.

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano Tuesday called for the European Union to come up with a plan to help member countries on the Mediterranean deal with the flood of migrants.

"The EU has to be more involved in saving human lives," Alfano said at a meeting of EU interior ministers in Luxembourg. "We are in the middle of the Mediterranean, we have saved thousands and thousands of people. "Now we are asking for the EU to give us a hand with the reinforcement of the border controls."

Alfano said Italy also needs economic assistance and help to relocate the migrants.

U.N. refugee agency UNHCR says 30,000 migrants on boats reached Italy in the first nine months of 2013.

Most of the 363 people believed dead in last week's wreck reportedly came from Somalia and Ethiopia.

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta will visit Lampedusa Wednesday, Alfano said. The prime minister will be accompanied by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecelia Malmstrom.

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