Dozens die as boat capsizes south of Sicily
Sinking comes just one week after 339 died in disaster off coast of Lampedusa
Video image made available by the Armed Forces of Malta shows a life raft carrying survivors following the capsize of a boat carrying an estimated 200 migrants. (AP Photo/Armed Forces of Malta)
Just one week after a boat sank close to the Italian Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, with the loss of 339 lives, a vessel containing an estimated 250 migrants capsized and sank some 60 miles off Lampedusa last night.
Italian news agency ANSA reported that about 50 corpses had been sighted in the water hours after the incident.
However, thanks to a prompt rescue operation co-ordinated by Maltese coast guard authorities, the vast majority of those on board were saved. Two Italian navy frigates, the Libra and L’Espero, used their helicopters to throw self-inflatable dinghies and life jackets into the water.
This most recent boat people disaster came in a Maltese- controlled triangle of the Mediterranean which stretches from Libya to Lampedusa to Malta.
The boat in question had been under surveillance from Maltese planes from early in the day. The Maltese coastguard authority last night said that the capsizing of the boat had been provoked by the migrants themselves who, with their vessel in apparent difficulty, had been waving desperately to the aircraft in order to attract attention. At one point, too many of the migrants shifted to one side of the boat, causing it to capsize.
The sinking came at the end of yet another busy day when more than 500 migrants in three different vessels were picked up by Italian, Maltese and Bahaman ships and brought into the Sicilian ports of Syracuse, Trapani and Porto Empedocle respectively.
Remarkably, even though sea conditions yesterday were rough, no lives were lost from these three boats. As in last week’s tragedy, nearly all of the 500 migrants picked up were of either Eritrean or Somali origin.
With media reports claiming that there are literally thousands more migrants gathering on the coasts of Libya and Tunisia in readiness to attempt a clandestine crossing to Italy, the president of the Italian Red Cross, Francesco Rocca, last night called for humanitarian corridors to be opened up.
“Lampedusa and Italy are the very confines of Europe,” he said. “National and EU Institutions have to guarantee a safe haven to those who are trying to escape war and dictatorships . . . If we did this, then we would hit at the people traffickers and that way stop this continuous slaughter. Europe simply has to immediately assume its responsibilities by offering a safe passage to those who set out on the seas on a voyage of hope”.
Meanwhile, in Lampedusa itself, the overcrowded migrant reception centre, currently occupied by 800, is slowly being emptied as inmates are transferred to different parts of Sicily.