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Alleged Skipper Of Migrant Boat Appears In Italian Court

Mohammed Ali Malek is seen at Catania's tribunal, on Friday. Italian prosecutors blamed the captain of a grossly overloaded fishing boat for a collision that capsized and sank his vessel off Libya, drowning hundreds of migrants.

The man who authorities say captained a boat carrying migrants from Libya that capsized in the Mediterranean, killing more than 700, has appeared in an Italian court. He faces possible charges of homicide and human trafficking.

An attorney for Mohammed Ali Malek, 27, from Tunisia, says that his client was a passenger – not skipper – of the overloaded fishing boat that reportedly collided with a merchant ship and then capsized. Hundreds of migrants were allegedly locked below deck and unable to escape when the boat sank.

"He says he's a migrant like all the others and he paid his fare to go on the boat," his lawyer, Massimo Ferrante, said outside the courtroom in Catania, Sicily.

Reuters reports that a 25-year-old Syrian, who prosecutors believe was a crew member himself, but who claims to have been only a passenger, has accused Malek of being in charge of the vessel.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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