Around 300 African migrants are now feared dead after their boat capsized off the coast of Italy.

At least 111 bodies have been pulled from the water so far – with another 200 people reported missing.
Today the Italian coast guard released dramatic pictures of some of the lucky survivors of the tragedy, being hauled to safety. 

According to Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano the ship’s captain, a 35-year-old Tunisian man, had been deported from Italy in April this year. He is currently being held under arrest.

Hauled to safety: Italian coast guards rescue one of the lucky survivors of the capsizing tragedy that is now believed to have claimed the lives of over 300 African asylum-seekers.

Two pregnant women and three children – including a three-year-old boy and two-year-old girl – are among the victims.

Witnesses described ‘a cemetery in the sea’ as scores of lifeless bodies floated in waters off the Mediterranean island.

According to Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, the ship began taking on water during the night after the motor was cut as it neared Conigli island off Lampedusa, a tiny speck of an island.

Usually smugglers have mobiles or satellite phones to call for help when they near shore or run into trouble, but this time they didn’t.

Instead, someone on board set fire to a piece of material to attract the attention of passing ships, only to have the fire spread to the ship itself.

Horrifying: Up to 300 African migrants are feared dead after their ship caught fire and capsized off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, spilling hundreds of passengers into the sea. Above, Italian rescue workers pull a dead body from the water.

The passengers all moved to one side to avoid the fire, flipping the ship and spilling hundreds of men, women and children into the sea, he said.

The coastguard said that of more than 500 people believed to be on board the 20-metre (66ft) boat, 159 had been rescued. Divers were today battling choppy waters as they search for the bodies of victims.

The country is holding a day of national mourning. Pope Francis said Friday was a ‘day of tears’ and denounced the ‘savage’ system that drives people to leave their homes for a better life, yet doesn’t care when they die in the process.

It was one of the deadliest recent accidents in the perilous Mediterranean crossing that thousands of African migrants make every year, seeking a new life in the European Union.

 

 

 
 
bodies

Bodies: Bags containing the bodies of the drowned African migrants lie in a hangar at Lampedusa airport

 

 

 
 
Victims: Witnesses described the scene as 'a cemetery in the sea' as scores of lifeless bodies floated in waters off the Mediterranean island

Victims: Witnesses described the scene as ‘a cemetery in the sea’ as scores of lifeless bodies floated in waters off the Mediterranean island

 

Origin: The migrants were from Eritrea, Ghana and Somalia, the coast guard said

Origin: The migrants were from Eritrea, Ghana and Somalia, the coast guard said

 

 

Only three of about 100 women on board were pulled from the water, and no children have been saved so far.

The disaster occurred when the boat’s motor stopped working and the vessel began to take on water, Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.

People on board burned a sheet to attract the attention of rescuers, starting a fire on board.

Yesterday, it was revealed that Italian divers had seen at least another 20 bodies around a migrant boat on the sea floor, raising the death toll to at least 114 people.

However, that figure could rise to as many as 300 people, according to the BBC.

One woman, who was initially thought to be dead, was revived by medical personnel after she was brought back to the port.

Today, a rescue agency worker told BBC Radio 4 that the team did not expect to pull any more survivors from the water.

She added that many survivors had been coming off the rescue boats naked, looking shell-shocked at what they had seen.

Yesterday, Coastguard Commander Floriana Segreto said: ‘Divers of the coastguard have found the boat on the sea floor at a depth of 40 metres (130ft). … The divers have yet to go inside the boat.’

She added that they are waiting for the weather to improve and would then start recovering more bodies.

‘Once the fire started, there was a concern about the boat sinking and everyone moved to one side, causing the boat to go down,’ she told a news conference.

The vessel sank no more than 1km (half a mile) from shore.

Bodies fished from the water were laid out along the quayside as the death toll rose in what looked like one of the worst disasters to hit the perilous route for migrants seeking to reach Europe from Africa.

‘It’s horrific, like a cemetery, they are still bringing them out,’ Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini told reporters yesterday.

Alfano said three children and two pregnant women were among the victims.

The disaster happened four days after 13 migrants drowned off eastern Sicily, and Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said action was needed by the European Union to stem ‘a succession of massacres of innocent people’.

Last year, almost 500 people were reported dead or missing on the crossing from Tunisia to Italy, the U.N. refugee office UNHCR says. Syrians fleeing civil war have added to the numbers.

A fishing boat raised the alarm at around 7:20am (0520 GMT) yesterday and began pulling people out of the water before coastguard vessels arrived on the scene.

The back door into Europe

 

Between 450 and 500 people, most either Eritreans or Somalis, appeared to have been on board the boat, which had come from Misrata in Libya, Alfano said.

‘If they had been able to use a telephone, they could have been saved,’ he said.

The search for survivors and victims continued within a four nautical mile radius, in water around 30-45 metres deep.

Rescuers planned to extend the radius later in the day, in case bodies had been pulled away by the tides, he said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres praised the rescue effort, but said: ‘I am dismayed at the rising global phenomenon of migrants and people fleeing conflict or persecution and perishing at sea.’

Spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration in Rome, Simona Moscarelli, said that the boat capsized after all the migrants moved to one side to escape the fire.

She told the BBC that only six of 100 women on board are thought to have survived.

Safe: A group of youngsters are brought safely to the shore after the tragedy off the Italian coast

 

Rescue: A woman receives assistance at the Palermo Civico hospital, Italy, after being rescued

 

Treatment: A man is carried off an ambulance to receive treatment

Desperate: Mayor Nicolini said the ship had caught fire after those on board set off flares so it would be seen by passing ships

 

 

Hunt: Coast guard ships and helicopters from across the region, as well as local fishing boats were on the scene trying to find survivors, said Coast Guard spokesman Marco Di Milla

Migrants frequently land on Lampedusa, just 113km (70 miles) from the coast of Tunisia, often picked up at sea in dangerously overcrowded boats by the Italian coastguard.

The small island has a population of between 4,500 and 5,000 people.

Pope Francis, who visited the island in July on his first papal trip outside Rome, said he felt ‘great pain’ for the ‘many victims of the latest tragic shipwreck today off Lampedusa’.

‘The word that comes to mind is ‘shame’,’ Francis said in unscripted remarks after a speech in the Vatican. ‘Let us unite our strengths so that such tragedies never happen again.’

The stream of migrants is a humanitarian and political problem for the Italian government.

Victims: 13 immigrants drowned off the coast of Sicily after their boat ran aground on Monday

 

Horror: Rescuers pause to pay their respects to the 13 victims of the tragedy

About 15,000 reached Italy and Malta – 13,200 and 1,800 respectively – by sea last year, the UNHCR says. Thousands more are believed to have arrived this year.

Calling the deaths of migrants ‘an endless tragedy,’ Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said: ‘The rescue operation began immediately but it is getting more difficult because now the weather is getting colder, they don’t know how to swim, they don’t know where to go.’

Migrants who arrive in Italy are allowed to apply for asylum. Many of them are ordered to leave the country but often slip away to become illegal immigrants in Italy or elsewhere in the European Union.

 

 

Italy has pressed the European Union for more help to fight the crisis which it says concerns the whole bloc.

‘This is not an Italian drama, this is a European drama,’ Alfano said. ‘Lampedusa has to be considered the frontier of Europe, not the frontier of Italy.’

In a separate incident today, around 200 migrants were reportedly escorted to the port of Syracuse on the island of Sicily, when their vessel encountered difficulties five miles off the coast.

Coastguards patrol the area where the boat capsized off the coast of Italy

It is the second fatal shipwreck this week in the area, following the death of 13 migrants who drowned off nearby Ragusa.

Over the past ten years, 6,200 migrants have died during the perilous crossing.

Ruthless human traffickers have been known to force migrants to jump into the sea, to be rescued by passing trawlers.

In this way they save on fuel and avoid the threat of the Italian authorities.

But fishermen have grown tired of abandoning their catch to ferry hundreds of people to shore.

During the summer, calm seas have seen the number of landings on Lampedusa soar, turning the island into an unofficial refugee camp.

Jezerca Tigani, of Amnesty International, said: ‘The waters around Lampedusa have again tragically become a graveyard for migrants.

‘These grim events keep repeating themselves as thousands of people make the perilous trip across the Mediterranean to seek a better life.’

Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino said there was ‘no miracle solution’ to the migration problem. The accident was ‘an infinite tragedy’, she added.

THE DESPERATE JOURNEY TO ITALY

Smugglers charge thousands of dollars a head to slip people into Europe aboard overcrowded, barely seaworthy fishing boats, providing no life vests or other safety features.

Sicily and the surrounding islands are hotspots for illegal immigrants arriving by sea from Tunisia, Libya and sub-Sahara Africa hoping for a better quality of life.

A growing number of Syrian immigrants have fled to the region hoping for protection from their civil war.

In August, six migrants died after they jumped out of a boat off the coast of Sicily.

In July, seven drowned after they tried to hold onto a fishing cage which was being towed to shore off the coast of Sicily.

 

 


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