The vessel, believed to be carrying some 650 men, women, and children, capsized about 10km off the Libyan coast on Wednesday.
Although the LÉ Niamh rescued 367 people, hundreds more are believed to have drowned — trapped below the deck of the vessel and unable to escape. A total of 26 bodies were recovered.
New details of the harrowing conditions faced by the migrants on board were revealed Friday, as Italian police arrested five North African men on suspicion of multiple homicide and human trafficking.
Authorities said the accused charged migrants between $1,200 and $1,800 for a place above deck. Those who could not afford the premium prices were charged around half these sums to travel in the hold below deck.
Around three hours into the journey, the hold, which contained mainly African migrants, began to take on water. The migrants were ordered to start bailing out the water but eventually tried to break out of the hold when their situation became desperate due to the rising water levels.
Survivors told authorities those in the hold were beaten back with knives, clubs, and belts as they tried to escape. Migrants above deck were ordered to sit on the hatch to stop their escape.
Two Libyans, two Algerians, and a Tunisian, ranging in age from 21 to 24, were arrested by Italian police. They have been named as Ali Rouibah, Shauki Esshaush, Imad Busadia, Abdullah Assnusi, and Suud Mujassabi.
“The arrested are suspected of causing the confirmed deaths of 26 migrants and the presumed deaths of about 200 people,” said a police statement.
At an Amnesty International annual council meeting in Dublin yesterday, President Michael D Higgins said the European response to the crisis was “shameful”.
“The European response as a whole has not only been late, but been grossly inadequate, with Italy, Spain, Malta, and Greece left struggling to cope with large influxes of refugees,” said President Higgins. “This failure can only be described as shameful.”
President Higgins said the crisis raised “profound questions as to what we mean by solidarity and universality of rights at the global level”.
“Given this reality presented to us on our screens, we must ask how so much of our discourse has focused on questions of security and border control, on alleged ‘pull factors’, to the neglect of the full and terrible reality of the conditions from which the people are leaving, and the role of the wider world, including ourselves, in those zones of conflict,” he said.