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Ship carrying African migrants to Europe catches fire, hundreds dumped into sea, several dead
2013-10-03 12:11:35 | (0 Comments)
Bodies of drowned migrants are lined up in the port of Lampedusa. – AP
A ship carrying African migrants to Europe caught fire and capsised today off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.
At least 114 people are dead and hundreds dumped into the sea, officials said.
More than 150 people were rescued but about the same number were still unaccounted for.
It is one of the deadliest recent accidents in the perilous Mediterranean Sea crossing that thousands of African migrants make every year, seeking a new life in the European Union.
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.
"We need only caskets, certainly not ambulances," Pietro Bartolo, chief of health services on Lampedusa, told Radio 24.
He gave the death toll at 94 but said it would certainly rise as search operations continued.
"It's an immense tragedy," said Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini.
Italy's coast guard later said divers saw at least another 20 bodies around the boat, which was now lying on the bottom of the sea.
Lampedusa is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland — a mere 70 miles (113 kilometers) off the coast of Tunisia — and is the frequent destination for smugglers' boats.
The 20-meter (66-foot) boat was believed to be carrying 450 to 500 people, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The boat left from Tripoli with migrants from Eritrea, Ghana and Somalia, Italian coast guard spokesman Marco Di Milla told The Associated Press.
Antonio Candela, a government health commissioner, said 159 people had been rescued.
Rescue crews hauled body bags by the dozens off coast guard ships on today and lined them up under multicolored tarps on Lampedusa's docks.
At sea, Italian coast guard ships, local fishing boats and helicopters from across the region combed the waters, trying to find survivors.
"Most of them can't swim. Only the strongest survived," said Simona Moscarelli, a legal expert for the IOM in Rome.
Only three of the estimated 100 women on board have been rescued so far and none of the 10 children believed on board were saved, she said.
Two of the dead were pregnant.
Cmdr. Floriana Segreto of the Italian coast guard told the AP that "divers of the coast guard have found the boat on the sea floor at a depth of 40 meters (130 feet). At least 20 bodies were seen around the boat.
The divers have yet to go inside the boat."
She added they were waiting for the weather to improve before they could recover more bodies.
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 closer to Africa than the Italian mainland.
Usually smugglers have cellphones 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.
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.
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Source: The Gleaner/Power 106 News
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