An insight into the multiple facets of Mediterranean people-smuggling has been provided by Italian authorities that rescued a luxury yacht carrying relatively wealthier migrants willing to pay a higher fee for a safer and more comfortable journey to Europe.
Police in the Sicilian city of Ragusa arrested three Syrians suspected of being the captain and crew of a 25m (82ft) yacht carrying 98 asylum seekers, including 23 children, who paid an average of $8,500 (£5,700) each to reach Italy from Turkey.
The migrants, all Syrians nationals or Palestinians refugees from Syria fleeing the civil war that has engulfed the country, were assured they would have reached an Italian port "travelling with all comforts" and without incurring any risk, police said.
"These are people who had put aside some savings, aiming to complete their journey in better safety conditions," Ragusa police commissioner Antonino Ciavola told IBTimes UK.
Smugglers charged higher fares for migrants wanting to stay on the deck, while those with lesser means were loaded inside the ship's hold.
"Families also agreed different prices depending on the number and age of their children,"Ciavola said. "Unfortunately, also in this case, smugglers demanded extra money for life jackets. They harvest money wherever they can".
Police said smugglers made up to $800,000 (£533,000) from the journey. Migrants told detectives they were made available plenty of food and water during the crossing.
"The crew was very experienced and repeatedly bragged about putting our safety first, also taking the waves in the best way possible not to cause detriment," one told police.
Their voyage was significantly different from that of thousands of others who pay between $400 and $1,500 (£270 and £1,015) to board one of the many overcrowded and often rundown boats that leave southern Mediterranean countries, such as Libya and Egypt, for Europe every day.
It nevertheless came to a similar end, as the yacht ran into trouble off the Sicilian coast, suffering an engine failure. It was rescued by a merchant ship that took the migrants on board and then let the Turkish-flagged vessel go adrift.
The asylum seekers were later taken to the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, where investigators were able to identify and arrest the three alleged smugglers, named as Ahmmed Sabaji, 25, Almotassem Billah Harroum, 31 and Moustafa Haj Slima, 29. The rest were being transferred to reception centres located across Italy.
Ciavola said it was not the first time police have come across a luxury migrant yacht bought second hand by criminal gangs for smuggling purposes. The commissioner said they seized a similar but older motorboat in autumn last year.
"They even use sailing boats sometimes," he said. "They usually try to reach one of the hundreds small ports located along the Italian coast at night and quietly disembark before leaving unnoticed."
Accoridng to estimates, more 200,000 migrants have successfully reached Europe via boat over the past 15 months. Another 5,000 are believed to have died trying, of which 1,700 perished in the first four months of 2015 only.
Up to 950 would-be-refugees died in a single incident at the weekend, as their boat crashed with a rescue vessel and capsized off Libya.