Italian prosecutors launched a probe on Monday after the bodies of 26 migrant women were recovered from the sea during a surge in attempted Mediterranean crossings.
The bodies were transferred to the Italian port of Salerno aboard a Spanish naval ship along with 400 migrants who were saved during the large-scale rescue operation.
Twenty three of the dead had been on a rubber dinghy that sank off Libya two days ago. The other three women died in a separate shipwreck. Five migrants are being questioned about the deaths.
Prefect of Salerno Salvatore Malfi ruled out sex trafficking, stating that traffickers would not “risk it in a voyage where they can lose their ‘merchandise’ – as they call it – all in one go.”
The grim discovery was made amid a sharp increase in rescues. Some 2,560 people were rescued from the Mediterranean in last four or five days alone.