Arrests in Pylos boat disaster probe amid Libya's Haftar-link claims

Arrests in Pylos boat disaster probe amid Libya's Haftar-link claims
Libya's General Khalifa Haftar has been accused of direct complicity in smuggling networks - while European funders continue to make deals with him to stop migration.
2 min read
21 July, 2023
104 men survived the disaster - while all women and children died [Getty images]

Nine Egyptian men have been arrested on suspicion of people smuggling in the Pylos boat disaster, where as many as 500 people may have lost their lives, with Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar linked to the ring. 

Of the 104 men who survived, Greek authorities have accused nine men of being part of the smuggling ring who organised the voyage, but are yet to arrest or suspend any Greek officials over allegations of a cover-up by the Hellenic Coast Guard

Revelations by survivors have said that none of the people smugglers who coordinated the journey were on board, and have implicated a wide network in people smuggling stretching deep into the Libyan security apparatus.

Smugglers rarely make the crossings themselves, preferring to teach passengers how to handle the boats and forcing them to set off alone.  

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An international investigation involving El Pais, Lighthouse Reports and Reporters United took testimonies from survivors, members of Libyan security services, and analysed court documents pertaining to the arrests. 

Many survivors named Muhammad Saad Al-Kahshi Al-Menfi as the chief organiser. Investigators say he answers under a chain of command led by General Khalifa Haftar himself. 

"All trips are overseen by his son, Saddam Haftar," one survivor told Lighthouse Reports. "Saddam leads the cooperation himself or assigns one of the frogmen battalions."

Libya expert Jalel Harchaoui said the "migrant business" had been flourishing in eastern Libya in the last 18 months. 

"Haftar cannot say that he’s not aware,"  he claimed. "He can’t say that he’s not involved."

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EU authorities have also been briefed by UN officials detailing the authorities involved in lucrative smuggling networks, that involve a range of Libyan powers. 

Yet since those briefings, both Italy and Malta have continued to make and use security deals with Haftar to prevent migration. 

Meanwhile, European authorities are continuing to try survivors and boat passengers who say they can provide evidence their families paid for their crossings to Europe. 

Lighthouse Reports spoke to five families of the nine accused men - all of whom swore they were passengers on the doomed cross, not smugglers. 

The ship had been at sea for several days after setting off from Tobruk in Libya before it capsized in calm waters on Wednesday 50 miles from the coast of Pylos. 

A coastguard vessel had been on the scene with the boat for hours before the tragedy occurred, it also emerged in late June - leading to further accusations that Greek authorities had a hand in the tragedy. 

 
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