Eight hundred of them are merely “men with few scruples, placed at the helm of the boat with a satellite phone and a bat to keep migrants in line,” while around 80 others are suspected of having played a bigger role in operations.
Of the 888 arrested, the majority are from Egypt and Tunisia. During this period, some 270,000 migrants arrived in Italy by sea.
However, despite increased police cooperation between Italy and the counties concerned – with the exception of war-torn Libya – none of the internationally sought after masterminds have been arrested.
Avvenire highlighted the case of Ethiopian Ermias Gharmiay, suspected of having accumulated as much as $70 million (€63.5 millio) from chartering boats to smuggle people into Europe, including the vessel which capsized in 2013 off the coast of Lampedusa in Italy, leaving 366 dead.
Gharmiay is believed to operate from Libya, where the only threat to his empire comes from the armed militia's interest in the lucrative market, the daily said, citing police sources.
Arrests of suspected traffickers are common because migrants often identify them after rescue operations.
According to survivors of a shipwreck last week, traffickers used knives, bats and belts to beat passengers, especially those stowed in the hull.
In July, a Tunisian trafficker who survived the 2013 Lampedusa shipwreck was sentenced to serve 18 years in prison for manslaughter.