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13 coffins: Italy buries 1st bodies from migrant shipwreck
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13 coffins: Italy buries 1st bodies from migrant shipwreck

Ismail Bouchnafa, vice president of the Sicilian Islamic Community, third left, and Archbishop of Catania Salvatore Gristina, second left, attend the funeral of 13 migrants who were among up to 800 people who died in a shipwreck in April in Catania, Sicily, Italy, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. The 13 are the first victims of the shipwreck to be recovered by deep-sea operations being carried out by the Italian navy. (AP Photo/Carmelo Imbesi)

CATANIA, Sicily (AP) — Italy on Tuesday buried 13 of the hundreds of migrants who perished when a smugglers’ fishing boat capsized and sank in the Mediterranean Sea, paying tribute to the victims in coffins adorned with roses. They were the first bodies retrieved in an Italian navy operation involving deep-sea divers and robots.

Premier Matteo Renzi’s government has vowed to do everything possible to reclaim the bodies from their watery grave 370 meters (1,220 feet) deep.

Prosecutors, citing survivor testimonies and video of the wreck shot by navy divers, say as many as 800 people went down with the boat, which capsized in April when a cargo ship approached to try to rescue the migrants.

Among those attending the inter-religious funeral in Catania were the mayor and an official of the Sicilian Islamic Community. Authorities say it’s unlikely the victims, like those brought to the surface in the navy operation which began a week ago, will be identified.

Twenty-eight people survived the maritime disaster, including a suspected smuggler and his alleged assistant, and 24 bodies were found soon after the capsizing. The suspects are being investigated for alleged manslaughter, causing the shipwreck and aiding and abetting illegal immigration.

Prosecutors concluded the ship went down because smugglers made steering errors and because too many people were aboard when the wooden boat set sail from Libya, where human trafficking operations flourish.

Catania-based prosecutors said every corner of the boat, including the hold, was crammed with migrants. The video of the wreck is being kept sealed to protect the dignity of the dead.

So far this year, the Italian coast guard has coordinated the rescues of more than 70,000 migrants seeking to reach Europe as they flee persecution, war or poverty. European military boats, humanitarian vessels and merchant ships all help the operation.

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