Migrant boat captain sentenced to 18 years for role in deadly wreck

Mohammed Ali Malek (second left) and Mahmud Bikhit (second right) survived the deadly wreck.

Story highlights

  • Boat disaster off coast of Libya killed up to 900 migrants last year
  • Mohammed Ali Malek, a Tunisian, was found guilty of causing wreck

(CNN)An Italian court has jailed the captain of a migrant boat that sank in 2015, killing some 900 people in the Mediterranean's worst disaster since World War II.

Judges in the Sicilian port city of Catania ruled Tuesday that Mohammed Ali Malek, a 28-year-old Tunisian, was responsible for the disaster.
    They ordered him to serve 18 years in prison for charges of multiple manslaughter, human trafficking and causing the tragedy, according to reports from AFP news agency.
    Mahmud Bikhit, 26, a Syrian accused of being his first mate, was handed a 5-year sentence.
    Each was also ordered to pay 9 million euros ($9.5m US) in compensation, according to a press statement from the court.
    Malek (left) and Bikhit (right) have been ordered to pay  compensation.
    Prosecutors said that 700 people died when the overcrowded boat capsized off the coast of Libya on April 19, 2015 after colliding with a freighter coming to its aid.
    However, forensic scientists who spent months sorting through decomposed body parts to count the victims put the death toll closer to 900.
    Both defendants claimed they were simple migrants and had been made to steer the boat by the real traffickers.
      But according to AFP, survivors told investigators that Malek, who had lived in Italy in the past, was the captain and caused the deadly collision through his lack of sailing skills.
      The boat was carrying people largely from The Gambia, Senegal and Mali, as well as from Bangladesh, the Ivory Coast and Ethiopia. Only 28 survived.