Italy resumes search for boat disaster victims

Rome. Recovery efforts have resumed off southern Italy after a boat carrying about 500 African migrants sank off the island of Lampedusa.
Bodies were taken to a hangar at the airport, because the island’s mortuary couldn’t cope. Net photo.
Bodies were taken to a hangar at the airport, because the island’s mortuary couldn’t cope. Net photo.

Rome. Recovery efforts have resumed off southern Italy after a boat carrying about 500 African migrants sank off the island of Lampedusa.

The vessel foundered less than 1km (half a mile) offshore on Thursday.

At least 113 bodies have now been recovered and some 200 of those on board the 20m (66-ft) fishing boat are still unaccounted for.

Dozens of bodies are thought to remain in the sunken vessel, according to rescue officials.

More than 150 people were rescued. Most of those on board were from Eritrea and Somalia, said the UN.

The skipper of the boat, a 35-year-old Tunisian, was arrested, announced Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano when he visited the island. “He had been deported from Italy in April,” Mr Alfano said.

“This is not an Italian tragedy, this is a European tragedy,” he continued. “Lampedusa has to be considered the frontier of Europe, not the frontier of Italy.”

A minute of silence will be observed in all Italian schools on Friday in memory of the victims.

At this time of year, when the Mediterranean tends to be calmer, boats carrying migrants from Africa and the Middle East land on Italy’s southern shores almost every day, the BBC’s Alan Johnston reports from Rome.

But the vessels are usually overcrowded and often unseaworthy.

‘Immense tragedy’

Mr Alfano said the ship had sailed from Misrata in Libya and began taking on water when its motor stopped working as it neared Lampedusa early on Thursday morning.

It is thought that some of those on board 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.

“Once the fire started, there was concern about the boat sinking and everyone moved to one side, causing the boat to go down,” Mr Alfano said.

He said at least three children and two pregnant women were among the dead. ”It’s horrific, like a cemetery; they are still bringing them out,” said the mayor, according to Reuters.

The search was widened during Thursday beyond the initial radius of four nautical miles from Lampedusa in an effort to recover bodies that had been swept away by tides One Eritrean woman who had been placed among the bodies recovered from the sea was later found to be breathing, Italian media said. She was taken to hospital in Sicily. But there is little hope of finding anyone else alive. Bodies were later taken to a hangar at the island’s airport, because there was no more room at the morgue.

 

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