Long past their prime, the two ships picked up by the Italian navy may have been worth just $150,000 (€126,000) each in scrap, and likely changed hands in an underworld out of reach of the authorities, according to shipping experts.
Neither Ezadeen, the 48-year-old livestock carrier found with 360 desperate migrants on board, nor the 37-year-old cargo ship Blue Sky M, carrying 768 people, had up-to-date certificates of seaworthiness demanded of normal commercial ships.
“For these ships, there is no value except scrap,” said Simon Ward, director of Ursa Shipbrokers in Piraeus, Greece.
But neither would attract more than $250,000 each in scrapyards in Turkey, he told AFP, and with a potential cost of transport reaching up to $100,000, unscrupulous owners might look favourably on a cash buyer.
“If you can get someone to take the ship for peanuts and put migrants on board then you can see the attraction of it,” said a shipbroker in London, who asked to remain anonymous.
“It’s like buying a second-hand car – it’s that easy.”
The potential profits are huge. Italian officials said passengers on Ezadeen paid between $4,000 and $8,000 to cross the Mediterranean, netting the smugglers between $1.44 million and $2.88 million…