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The captain of a fatal October 3 shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa could face manslaughter charges, reported Italian prosecutors on Tuesday, as the toll from the accident hit 231, with the count expected to rise.
Officials in Agrigento, Sicily, said 35-year-old ship captain Kaled Bensalam, of Tunisia, had been detained and investigated for multiple counts of voluntary manslaughter and causing a shipwreck.
Five days after the wreck, a team of 40 scuba divers was still searching at a depth of around 50m to recover bodies near the southern Italian island.
“We have to operate delicately, recovering the corpses one by one,” Italy Coast Guard official Gianni Dessi told the SkyTG24 news channel. He said there was “no exact estimate” on the total number of victims.
Meanwhile, the other 154 survivors, all from Eritrea, were in an overcrowded reception centre on the tiny island.
European Union interior ministers were due to discuss their response to the Lampedusa tragedy later on Tuesday.
The talks in Luxembourg were expected to concentrate on Italy's request for more help from the bloc. Rome has called for stepped-up patrols on the Mediterranean, greater burden sharing of asylum-seekers and co-operation deals with North African nations.
Meanwhile, migrants continued to land on Italy's shores. Almost 400 people, claiming to be from Syria and the Palestinian Territories, were rescued overnight by two cargo ships off the coast of south-eastern Sicily.
According to official figures, 30 100 would-be asylum-seekers arrived in Italy from January to September, compared to fewer than 8 000 during all of 2012. The inflow intensified during the past two months, especially from Syria, Somalia and Eritrea.
Each year thousands of people from Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere try to reach Europe via Italy and Malta, in search of a better life. Many of them end up in Lampedusa, which is roughly halfway between Sicily and Tunisia. - Sapa-dpa