FIVE men have been arrested on suspicion of murder after illegal immigrants were thrown from a boat in a voodoo ritual "to calm stormy seas".
Survivors said more than a dozen victims were selected as sacrifices from among 400 people crammed on the vessel sailing from Libya to Italy.
Italian cops have been told that the boat's engine failed in rough weather. Nigerian women among the passengers then performed a "magic dance" and pointed out people to the captain, who threw them overboard.
Witnesses said the ritual was to "cast out the devil" and prevent the boat sinking. Victims were allegedly chosen because of their ethnic origin.
Italian prosecutor Ignazio Fonzo said: "One man was selected, taken down to the hold and beaten before being led back on deck and thrown in the sea with his hands tied. "As this went on, prayers, chanting and dancing took place. This happened several times during the voyage. We believe at least a dozen people were thrown alive into the sea in this way."
When the ship arrived at the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa in August, 25 people were found dead from engine fumes in the hold.
Dozens more needed hospital treatment for the effects of fumes, exhaustion or dehydration.
Those arrested are aged between 28 and 44.
All come from West Africa — where voodoo is widely practised.
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