The crew of a cargo ship boarded by Italian special forces may not have been threatened by knife-wielding “pirates” as initially reported, Italian media said on Saturday.
On Friday, Italy’s defense minister said marines had dropped onto a vessel off the nation’s coast after reports that that “stowaways” used knives to threaten the crew.
The ship, Galata Seaways sailing under a Turkish flag, was then escorted to Naples, where Italian investigators were questioning the crew and others aboard.
According to Friday media reports and statements from the defense ministry, the ship captain radioed for help after knife-wielding migrants, who had secretly boarded the vessel hoping to reach Europe and were discovered by the crew, tried to take some of the crew hostage.
But interviews with the crew have so far not backed up that version of events, according to Italian media on Saturday.
The captain has told investigators that he alerted the authorities after he saw two men with knives try to enter the ship’s machine section and, failing to do so, then rejoined the other stowaways, according to reports by ANSA news agency and La Repubblica daily.
“For the moment, it is not clear what the clandestine passengers wanted to do with the knives,” La Repubblica said, citing “informed sources.”
“Thus it is not clear whether there was a diversion attempt or not,” La Reppublica wrote, adding that no-one has yet been charged with piracy over the incident.
The three migrants who were found to have knives on them have been charged with arms possession, but have not been jailed, according to ANSA.
The 15 stowaways came from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Four of them — two men and two women — have been hospitalized, according to ANSA.
One of the women is pregnant, the other is weak, one of the men could have a fractured ankle, and the other is suffering from hypothermia.
“When we were discovered, we were afraid that we’d be arrested and repatriated,” ANSA quoted one of them telling investigators.
The Galata Seaways is a roll-on roll-off cargo ship designed to carry vehicles and was sailing under a Turkish flag with reportedly 22 crew members.
It set off from Topcular in Turkiye on June 7 and was headed for Sete in southern France.
Scores of people fleeing war and poverty in Asia, Middle East and Africa try to enter European Union countries each year.