Corpses of 26 Nigerian women recovered at sea

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A surfer jumps into the Pacific Ocean as a cloud bank sits off the coast of the Sydney's Elouera Beach as Australia experiences mild late autumn temperatures, April 28, 2017. Reuters/Jason Reed

The bodies of twenty-six young Nigerian women have been recovered from the Mediterranean Sea over the weekend. A probe whether the deaths are linked to sex trafficking has begun.

The bodies were recovered from two shipwrecks. Twenty-three were found from one and three from the other. Fifty-three people were also said to be missing.

The Spanish ship Cantabria brought the bodies to the southern Italian port of Salerno on Sunday. Cantabria reportedly works as part of the EU’s Sophia anti-trafficking operation.

According to reports by Italian media, women's bodies were kept in a refrigerated section of the warship. Many of them were teenagers.

Prosecutors opened an investigation over suspicions the women and girls may have been abused and murdered. They were suspected to have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean. Autopsies on the bodies should be completed this month.

'Tough experience'

Italy spokesman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) Marco Rotunno said his colleagues were at the port in Salerno when the bodies were brought in. He said the experience had been a tough one, adding that a woman from Nigeria lost all three daughters.

The majority or 90 percent of migrant women arrived with some signs of violence like bruises. “It’s very rare to find a woman who hasn’t been abused, only in exceptional cases, maybe when they are travelling with their husband,” Rotunno said, adding that those travelling with their children may have been abused.

There were 375 survivors brought to Salerno. Most of them are from Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, The Gambia and Sudan, the daily La Repubblica reports.

Arrests in Italy

Two men have been arrested and charged with people trafficking in Italy as investigators look into the deaths. They have been identified as Al Mabrouc Wisam Harar and Mohamed Ali Al Bouzid, The Guardian reports.

Police prefect of the southern town of Salerno Salvatore Malfi said the victims may have been thrown off their rubber dinghy into the waters of the Mediterranean, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome. Malfi added that the cause of their death appears to be by drowning.

It was not immediately clear why all bodies found were women. The AFP quotes Malfi as saying that sex traffickers usually use different routes. "Loading women onto a boat is too risky, the traffickers would not do it as they could lose all their goods, as they like to call them, in one fell swoop," he said.

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