Over 100 migrants dead in Italy boat accident
A boat carrying African migrants to Europe off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa caught fire and capsized yesterday, leading to over 100 dead and many missing.
Coast guard officials say over 150 migrants have been rescued and the death toll in the accident has passed 103. Among the victims are three children and two pregnant women and there are still 200 people unaccounted for.
It has been reported that the vessel came from Misrata in Libya and was carrying around 500 migrants, most of them from Eritrea, Ghana and Somalia, seeking to reach Europe.
The incident occurred when the boat’s motor stopped working and the vessel began to take on water. In order to attract the attention of passing ships, the men on board lit fire to a piece of material and moved all migrants to one side leading the boat to capsize and catch fire.
Pope Francis has described yesterday’s incident as a “disgrace” while he called for prayers on behalf of the dead and their families. He said: “Let us unite our efforts so that similar tragedies do not happen again. Only a decided collaboration among all can help to stop them.’’
Rescue teams are still searching for survivors and the dead bodies washed away by the tide. In a statement, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, commended the swift action taken by Italian coast guards to save hundreds of lives.
Mr Guterres also expressed dismay “at the rising global phenomenon of migrants and people fleeing conflict or persecution and perishing at sea.”
Italian president Giorgio Napolitano said action was needed by the European Union to stem “a succession of massacres of innocent people”.
Yesterday’s incident comes just four days after another boat sank near eastern Sicily, killing 13 migrants.
According to a UN report, numbers show those arriving by sea to Italy this year until 30 September stood at 30,100, with migrants mainly from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria.
In recent years the island of Lampedusa, a mere 113 kilometres off the coast of Tunisia, has been a frequent destination for smuggler boats who charge thousands of dollars a head to slip people into Europe illegally.