Boat captain goes on trial for murder after six Christian migrants died at sea

Despite the many deaths, thousands still attempt to make the perilous crossings. This image shows a rescue boat of the Spanish NGO Proactiva approaching an overcrowded wooden vessel with migrants from Eritrea, off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean last month.Reuters

A boat captain faces a prison sentence of up to 90 years in Spain after being charged with murdering six Christian migrants by allegedly throwing them off a boat.

Prosecutors in Almería have asked for 15 years for each of the offences. If convicted, he would in effect serve 45 of the 90 years behind bars.

The captain, named as Alain NB, from Cameroon, was one of two people arrested in 2014. A second man died in prison.

A jury gathered in the second section of the Provincial Court of Almería to begin deciding the case yesterday.

According to the indictment, the six Nigerian Christians were allegedly killed in a religious confrontation in December 2014 when the captain and his colleague attacked them because they believed their prayers had provoked a storm that capsized the boat.

Algeciras police state in the indictment that the attackers pulled back slats and beat the Christians, then threw them into the "raging sea", where they were lost.

One body was found off the coast of Granada a few days later.

Alain NB has denied all charges and is represented by the well-known criminal lawyer Esteban Hernández Thiel. Thiel has condemned the case against his client as  "an absolute procedural botch", according to La Voz, and has complained of inconsistencies in witness statements.

There were about 50 migrants on board the inflatable boat, which had no motor, when the bad weather hit. The Nigerian pastor and his fellow migrants allegedly began praying for the bad weather to cease.

Suspicions about what happened next were aroused when survivors arrived in Spain and seemed frightened.

The migrants had left Morocco on 3 December 2014 to make the nine-mile journey across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain. The boat with 29 survivors was found adrift off the coast of Almería a few days later. Some passengers died because of the bad weather. 

The prosecution said that Alain NB "was aware that the victims could not possibly survive and that they would die, either by drowning, from the cold, or from the physical injuries they had suffered. He was aware of the low temperature, the rough seas and the great distance from the coast and the absence of any nearby boats which could rescue them," the Telegraph reported.

Latest figures show that more than 300,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far in 2016. More than 3,000 have died attempting to make the crossing. Most, nearly a quarter, are from Syria, with Afghanistan, Iraq and Nigeria the next most numerous.