Search resumes for Italy boat dead

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.

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image of Gavin Hewitt
At the scene
Gavin Hewitt
Europe editor, in Lampedusa
This raises questions about the role of smugglers. Because 500 people were crammed on board this small, 66ft-long boat. When the engine failed, there weren’t any mobile phones or satellite phones to call for help.

The passengers were left stranded, and that’s when they lit this blanket trying to attract attention. That set fire to other parts of the ship. And then people surged to the side and the boat capsized.

I am only 70 miles from the coast of Tunisia. And this is seen as one of the entrance points for migrants trying to get to Europe.

There are obviously problems in parts of Africa, but also turbulence in the Middle East. Not far from here in Sicily in recent days, officials have found people who have come from Syria.

Sometimes Lampedusa residents get very angry at the numbers of people who are arriving. It is very distressing for many of them. Many say something has to be done about this tragedy.

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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.

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Illegal migration numbers

Since 1988, at least 19,142 people died trying to reach Europe’s borders – 2,352 in 2011 alone
6,707 have died off Sicily in the past 10 years
Of those who arrived in Italy in 2011, 571,000 continued on to Germany, 210,000 to France, 194,000 to the UK, 87,000 to Sweden, 75,000 to the Netherlands, and 58,000 stayed in Italy
source: Fortress Europe

“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 is one of the worst such disasters to occur off the Italian coast in recent years; Prime Minister Enrico Letta tweeted that it was “an immense tragedy”.

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

Earlier this week, 13 migrants drowned while trying to reach Sicily.

Lampedusa mayor Giusi Nicolini: “These bodies are all speaking. We need to stop this”
‘Continuous horror’
Footage from Lampedusa showed bodies being laid out on the dockside.

The mayor, Giusi Nicolini, described the scene as a “continuous horror”.”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.

Italian Coast Guard vessel brings survivors to Lampedusa harbour
Most of those on board were from Eritrea and Somalia
Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano visited the island on Thursday evening
Makeshift mortuary in hangar at the Lampedusa airport
Bodies were taken to a hangar at the airport, because the island’s mortuary couldn’t cope
Italian Coast Guard vessel brings survivors to Lampedusa harbour
Most of those on board were from Eritrea and Somalia
Pope Francis sent a Twitter message calling for prayers for the “victims of the tragic shipwreck off Lampedusa”. In July he visited the island and condemned the “global indifference” to the plight of migrants trying to arrive there.

In a later audience at the Vatican, he said: “The word is disgrace: This is disgrace!”

Rising numbers
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).