Italian authorities have launched an investigation into the cause of death of 26 teenage girls whose bodies were recovered in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday.
The girls, aged 14-18, are believed to have been migrants from Niger and Nigeria who had embarked on the treacherous route to Europe from Libya over the weekend.
Lorena Ciccotti, Salerno’s head of police, told CNN that autopsies would be carried out on Tuesday and that coroners would be investigating whether the girls had been tortured or sexually abused.
Their bodies were found close to a flimsy rubber dinghy that had all but sunk when rescuers arrived, Ciccotti said. Aid workers had described a grim scene: survivors hanging onto the remains of the vessel as the girls’ bodies floated nearby.
Their rescue was one of four separate rescue operations carried out in the Mediterranean over the weekend. In total, 400 people were brought aboard the Spanish vessel Cantabria before disembarking at the Italian port town of Salerno.