Italy boat sinking: Dozens of migrants die off Lampedusa

 More than 140 people have been rescued from the shipwreck, officials say

More than 140 people have been rescued from the shipwreck, officials say

At least 92 people have died after a boat carrying African migrants sank off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, the island’s mayor says.

More than 140 have been rescued but hundreds are missing, officials say.

Passengers reportedly threw themselves into the sea as the vessel got into trouble and Italian officials were quoted as saying that dozens of people were still in the water.

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

In the latest incident, Simona Moscarelli, a spokeswoman from the International Migration Organisation 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”.

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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.”

‘Continuous horror’
The boat had set off from Libya and many of those on board were migrants from Eritrea, according to UNHCR spokesman Laurens Jolles in Rome.

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”.

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.

“The immense tragedy at Lampedusa… is unbearable for any human being,” Italian Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi said, according to Reuters.

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Mediterranean crossings

Estimated 7,800 migrants and asylum-seekers arrived in Italy in first half of 2013
Estimated 600 arrived in Malta in same period
Some 6,700 left from Libya and other parts of North Africa. Others crossed from Greece and Turkey
Most come from Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Somalia and Eritrea. Others come from Egypt, Pakistan and Syria
40 recorded deaths in first six months of 2013
Almost 500 reported dead or missing in whole of 2012
Source: UNHCR

Pope Francis sent a Twitter message calling for his followers to pray 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 statement UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres commended the swift action taken by the Italian coastguard 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”.

At this time of year, when the Mediterranean tends to be calmer, vessels 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 often the vessels are overcrowded and are not seaworthy.

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.

The UNHCR said that more than 1,500 people drowned or went missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe in 2011, making it the “most deadly stretch of water for refugees and migrants”.

The UN also said that almost 500 people were reported dead or missing at sea during 2012 in attempts to reach Europe.

On Wednesday a draft report from human rights body the Council of Europe said that Italy was “ill-prepared for a new surge of mixed migration on its coasts”.

Italy’s system for receiving and processing migrants and asylum seekers was not fit for purpose, a council committee on immigration said.

Ms Moscarelli said that closer international cooperation was needed to prevent such cases happening again.

“We should do something in Libya… We should do something in transit countries, and hand resettlement to other European or Western countries in order to avoid these tragedies,” she said.

source: BBC.