International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 127, Issue 4, pp 871–879 | Cite as

Migrant deaths and the Kater Radez I wreck: from recovery of the relict to marine taphonomic findings and identification of the victims

  • Francesco Introna
  • Giancarlo Di Vella
  • Carlo Pietro CampobassoEmail author
Case Report


On March 1997, during a naval blockade imposed by Italy to prevent illegal immigration, the motorboat Kater Radez I full of Albanian refugees clashed with an Italian warship with 120 people approximately on board. The boat sank quickly after the collision just in the middle of the Otranto Canal (Mediterranean Sea). Only 34 individuals survived the accident; 58 died, mostly women and children, and dozens were missing. After 7 months spent at depth of 800 m approximately underwater to constant temperature of 4 °C, the motorboat was rescued, and totally, 52 bodies were recovered from the holds. The management of the mass disaster is summarized focusing on the procedures applied in the recovery of the boat and victims, and the identification process. The purpose of the article is to present the unique taphonomic model of decomposition dealing with marine sequestered environments. The postmortem changes have been revised according with a skeletonization scoring system. Surprisingly, most of the victims were in good condition with soft tissues still present except at the head/neck region and the hands resulting in the body parts mostly pre-skeletonized. Closed compartments as well as heavy clothing in multiple layers protected the bodies from animal activity of marine scavengers. Presumptive positive identification was obtained in 49 out of 52 bodies based on the correspondence between ante- and postmortem data. An additional purpose of the article is also to focus on the practice of coercive actions disproportionate to the risk of unauthorized entry criticized by several international organizations for migration and recently condemned by the European Court in Strasbourg.


Mass disaster Marine taphonomy Postmortem interval Identification Human rights 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francesco Introna
    • 1
  • Giancarlo Di Vella
    • 1
  • Carlo Pietro Campobasso
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Section of Legal MedicineUniversity of BariBariItaly
  2. 2.Department Medicine & Health SciencesUniversity of MoliseCampobassoItaly

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