Investigation opened after 26 women dead at sea

Port of Salerno

ROME - The bodies 26 women were unloaded in a procession of black bags on to the dock of Salerno. The deceased women, believed to be Nigerian in origin, were recovered by the Spanish ship Cantabria as part of operation Sophia, an EU anti-trafficking force.

 Most of the women, aged in large part between 14 and 18, were drowned when the rubber boat carrying 64 sank on Friday while crossing the Mediterranean. The other three victims were collected as part of other operations and transferred the Cantabria as it headed to Salerno to turn over the bodies to the Italian authorities. 375 rescued migrants were also brought to Salerno, originating from sub-Saharan Africa, Gambia, Ghana, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, and Senegal: 90 of them women, eight of them pregnant; and 54, children.

 An investigation into the deaths of the women has been launched by Salermo prosecutors who believe there is a possibility that sexual violence played a role in the death of these women. Public prosecutor Luca Masini has arranged the external examination of the bodies with emphasises on toxicology and evidence of rape. The bodies were frozen onboard the Cantabria in order to preserve evidence that may have been lost during the journey to the coast. Full autopsies are expected to be completed at the Salerno morgue within the week.

 Police have detained 7 people for questioning including two men of Libyan and Egyptian origin who are believed to be the captains of the vessel. Salerno's prefect Salvatore Malfi has expressed doubts that the women were being trafficked into sex slavery, as he said "the sex trafficking routes are different. Loading women onto a boat is too risky. The traffickers would not do it as they could lose all their 'goods, 'as they describe them, in one fell swoop." While women are statistically at more risk during this kind of migration, it is far beyond the 5 to 6 death rate of men to women crossing the Mediterranean.