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Thursday, 3 October 2013

Italy boat sinking: Hundreds feared dead off Lampedusa

Rescued migrants arrive onboard a coastguard vessel at the harbour of Lampedusa
More than 140 people have been rescued from the shipwreck, officials say

At least 130 African migrants have died and many more are missing after a boat carrying them to Europe sank off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.

Ninety-four bodies have been recovered and a further 40 have been discovered inside the wreck, coast guards said.

Passengers reportedly threw themselves into the sea after a fire broke out on board. More than 150 of the migrants have been rescued.

Most of those on board were from Eritrea and Somalia, said the UNHCR.

The boat was believed to have sailed from Libya, the Italian coast guard said.

Simona Moscarelli, a spokeswoman from the International Organization for Migration in Rome, told the BBC that "at one point there was a fire on the boat and so the migrants moved, all of them, to one side of the boat which capsized".

She estimated that only three of about 100 women on board survived, adding that most of the migrants were unable to swim.

"Only the strongest survived," she told the Associated Press news agency.

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".

The boat was believed to have been carrying about 500 people at the time.

"There is no miraculous solution to the migrant exodus issue," said Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino. "If there were we would have found it and put it into action."

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

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

'Continuous horror'

Footage from the scene showed bodies being laid out on Lampedusa's dockside.

The mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini, described the scene as a "continuous horror".
This picture grabbed on a video released by the Guardia Costiera on October 3, 2013 shows some of the immigrants after their rescue near Lampedusa
The vessel reportedly capsized after a fire on board
Survivors of a ship carrying migrants which caught fire and sank off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa are seen aboard an Italian Coast Guard vesselThere are believed to have been around 500 people on board the vessel
Body bags containing African migrants, who drowned trying to reach Italian shores, lie in the harbour of LampedusaThe bodies of the victims were lined up at Lampedusa dockside

"It's like a cemetery, they are still bringing them out," she said.

Local media reports say that at least one child and a pregnant woman are among the dead and that a suspected people smuggler has been arrested.

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.


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