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Alert reporting reveals a new European migration tactic — packed luxury sailboats landing in Italy

Sailboats used by smugglers to transport migrants are beached on Le Cannelle beach at Isola Capo Rizzuto in the Calabria region of southern Italy, Nov. 13, 2021. Thousands of refugees have arrived in Italy this fall by a lesser-known Calabrian route from Turkey, paying heftier smuggling fees to travel below deck on crammed luxury sailboats that can be less conspicuous than the inflatable boats used in the Central Mediterranean. (AP Photo / Alessandra Tarantino)

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Rome producer Trisha Thomas, who has covered migration in Italy for more than two decades, spotted reports about an unusual increase of arrivals in Calabria, a southern region that had not previously been a main destination point for smugglers bringing people into Europe by boat from Africa or Turkey.

Thomas called the mayor and the head of the local Red Cross, who spoke of being overwhelmed by the influx. Then came a curious detail in Italian Coast Guard handout video: Instead of flimsy rubber rafts or wooden boats, Thomas spotted clips of sleek sailboats. Aid workers call these “1st class” crossings but there is nothing elite about them; 100 people may be packed below deck with meager food and water.

When Thomas called around,she found multiple examples of sailboats smuggling migrants all the way from Turkey,leading to a four-fold surge in sea arrivals at Calabria. She traveled to the southern region with photographer Alessandra Tarantino to learn more. There,they delivered all-formats spot coverage of two arrivals,then kept reporting on this new method of crossing the Mediterranean. Among the discoveries was the economics: A single trip on a stolen sailboat netted smugglers nearly a million dollars.

Speaking to new arrivals in local shelters,Thomas obtained user-generated video of migrants arriving on a Calabrian beach aboard a sailboat. She combined that footage with interviews of migrants, coast guard video and Tarantino’s drone shots of stranded sailboats to build a powerful video story used by more than 160 channels.

The text and photos also drew widespread play, including on major European news portal Euronews. A UK reporter told Thomas he was asked by his editors to match the AP story,but decided against sending a photographer because they couldn’t improve upon Tarantino’s images.

Dozens of reporters across Europe cover migration exclusively,but it took Thomas’ years of experience and Tarantino’s matchless visuals to score the beat in all formats.

For alert,resourceful coverage that reveals a new aspect of European migration and the startling economics behind it, Thomas and Tarantino receive AP’s Best of the Week — Second Winner award.

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