Italy sinking: Search resumes for missing migrants

Written by MCJStaff   // October 4, 2013   // 0 Comments

BBC News

BBC News

Divers off southern Italy have been searching the wreck of a boat which sank on Thursday carrying around 500 African migrants.

But rough seas are hampering their work to find some 200 people still unaccounted for. Officials say there is little hope now of finding survivors.

At least 111 bodies have been recovered and 155 people rescued.

The fishing boat foundered less than 1km (half a mile) from the island of Lampedusa after it caught fire.

Dramatic footage has emerged of the boat lying upright on the seabed some 150ft (45m) below the surface. A diver is seen going down to the boat, which appears to have a hole in its deck.

Divers have described horrific scenes inside the sunken vessel, with corpses crammed into the wreck and some of the bodies – even in death – seeming to cling to the sides of the hull, the BBC’s Alan Johnston reports.

So many bodies have been brought ashore that the island has had to send for more coffins and turn a hangar at the airport into a huge, makeshift mortuary.

Italians are aghast at the scale of the tragedy, Italy’s worst ever migrant shipwreck, our correspondent says.

A day of mourning has been declared, with flags flying at half-mast and a minute of silence observed in all Italian schools.

A special mass is being held on Friday evening in the church in Lampedusa.

Pope Francis, visiting Assisi, described Friday as “a day of tears” for the victims and condemned a “savage world” that ignores the plight of “people who have to flee poverty and hunger”.

Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini – who wept at the scene of so many bodies – said: “After these deaths, we are expecting something to change. Things cannot stay the same.”

“The future of Lampedusa is directly linked to policies on immigration and asylum,” she told reporters. 

“This is not an Italian tragedy, this is a European tragedy,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano has said. “Lampedusa has to be considered the frontier of Europe, not the frontier of Italy.”

‘Continuous horror’

Italian coastguard ships, fishing boats and helicopters have been taking part in the rescue and recovery operation off an area of Lampedusa called Rabbit Island.

The search has been widened beyond the initial radius of four nautical miles in an effort to recover bodies that have been swept away by tides.

But the worsening weather conditions have put the operation on hold, the BBC’s Gavin Hewitt reports from Lampedusa.Mr Alfano said the divers had seen dozens of bodies in the wreck. “There could be even more in the hold, where the poorest of the poor are usually put,” he told parliament.

Half of the bodies so far recovered are said to be women and four are children.

The skipper of the boat, a 35-year-old Tunisian, was arrested, Mr Alfano announced on a visit to Lampedusa on Thursday. “He had been deported from Italy in April,” he said.

The 66ft (20m) ship was carrying around 500 migrants – mostly from Eritrea and Somalia – when it set sail from the Libyan port of Misrata, survivors said.

The boat began taking on water when its motor stopped working as it neared Lampedusa early on Thursday morning, they said.

Some of those on board then reportedly set fire to a piece of material to try to attract the attention of passing ships, only to have the fire spread to the rest of the boat.

The boat is thought to have capsized when everyone moved to one side.

Footage from Lampedusa showed bodies being laid out on the dockside.

Mayor Nicolini has described the scene as a “continuous horror”, while a local doctor said the hardest part to deal with was seeing the bodies of children.

An Eritrean woman who had initially been placed among the bodies on the shore was later found to be breathing and was taken to hospital in Sicily.

In a statement, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres commended the swift action taken by the Italian coast guard to save lives.

Mr Guterres also expressed “dismay at the rising global phenomenon of migrants and people fleeing conflict or persecution and perishing at sea”.

The UN said that in recent months most migrants attempting the crossing were fleeing the conflicts in Syria and the Horn of Africa, rather than coming from sub-Saharan Africa.

The number of those arriving by sea to Italy this year until 30 September stood at 30,100, according to the UN.

The main nationalities of those arriving were Syrian (7,500), Eritrean (7,500) and Somali (3,000).


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500 migrants from Eritrea and Somalia from the Libyan port of Misrata

island of Lampedusa

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LLampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini


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