Forensic experts carry out 29 autopsies in three days after migrant tragedy

Pathologists, forensic expert perform 29 autopsies on migrants' corpses brought to Malta by AFM rescue mission

Forensic expert Mario Scerri
Forensic expert Mario Scerri
Migrant deaths at sea • Forensic expert Mario Scerri

Mater Dei Hospital’s mortuary has seen the largest mass autopsy conducted since starting its operations in 2007, with 29 autopsies conducted on the bodies of 28 men and one woman recovered from the sea in the new migrant tragedy that took place outside Lampedusa this week.

The largest ever number of autopsies performed on one case was that of the EygptAir hijacking way back in 1985, on 60 bodies.

The 29 victims were those brought in by the Armed Forces’ maritime squadron on Sunday.

Forensic expert Dr Mario Scerri declined comment on Italian media reports that some of those who died in the tragic incident had been hit with hard objects and killed on board, saying that the official results of the autopsies would be given to the inquiring magistrate.

But Scerri said he could safely concluded that the 29 migrants died from drowning and that some of them might have been killed in a stampede to climb abord a rescue patrol boat.

Italian police on Tuesday said that migrants rescued by the Danish petrol tanker Torm Lotte in waters between Libya and Malta and taken to the Sicilian port of Messina, told investigators that around 60 people had been stabbed by traffickers, and their bodies thrown into the sea.

These deaths come on top of the 29 people known to have died by asphyxiation after the traffickers allegedly prevented dozens of migrants from leaving the hold.

Dozens of migrants are feared to have drowned during transfer to the Danish freighter from the rickety fishing boat that is thought to have been carrying between 700 and 750 people.

A child aged two was also found dead on arrival in Messina and a woman died while being transferred to hospital for treatment.

Earlier in the day migrants told that 181 people had died in the tragedy but investigators put a closer estimate at 141.

On Tuesday five men presumed to be the traffickers were arrested on charges of multiple homicide.

They were Mhamed Morad Al Fallah, 21, from Syria, Youssef Dahman, 21, and Abdrzakc Asbaoui Asbaoui, 25, from Morocco, Saddam Abuhddayed, 25, from the Palestinian territories, and Jamal Rajeb, 32, from Saudi Arabia.

Investigators have also established that a double tariff system applied to the sea voyage, with migrants of Arab origin paying 1,000-2,000 dollars for a place on deck and Africans paying 250-500 dollars for a passage in the hold.

Since no documents were found on board the boat that can identify any of the victims, each of the victims will be given a referral number. Once all results of the autopsies and a sample of the DNA is taken from all the 29 victims, it will be up to the magistrate to release all bodies for burial.

The bodies are kept for a period of time and if no next of kin or anyone else can make a positive identification, then the burial will be done in a common part of the Addolorata Cemetery in Paola. Each body is separated just in case in the future somebody claims the remains.