Search for Sicily shipwreck victims postponed for second day
More than 100 bodies trapped in sunken boat as disaster fuels row over immigration
People hold a banner, which reads: ’Humanitarian corridor now’, during a procession in memory of victims of the shipwreck of a migrant boat on the Italian island of Lampedusa last night. Photograph: Antonio Parrinello/Reuters
A man cycles past banners, which read: “An island full of pain that bears the indifference of the world” (right) and “Lampedusa wants to welcome immigrants alive, not dead”, in the centre of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa today. Photograph: Antonio Parrinello/Reuters
The boat which sank off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa is pictured in this still image taken from video, released by the Italian Vigili del Fuoco today. Choppy seas prevented divers on Friday from recovering more bodies of migrants who died in the shipwreck off Sicily that has killed an estimated 300, in one of the worst disasters of Europe’s immigration crisis. Photograph: Vigili Del Fuoco/Handout via Reuters
President of Sicily region Rosario Crocetta (3rd right) stands in front of body bags containing African migrants, who drowned trying to reach Italian shores, as they lie in a hangar of the Lampedusa airport. Photograph: Antonio Parrinello/Reuters
The search to recover bodies from a fishing boat that sank off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa has been called off for a second day because of bad weather.
Police spokesman Leonardo Ricci said choppy seas are preventing divers from reaching the wreck, now resting on the seabed. More than 200 people are still missing.
The 20-metre boat packed with migrants sank on Thursday when the ship capsized after they started a fire to attract attention.
The migrants had spent two days at sea travelling from Libya. Just 155 people survived and so far, 111 bodies have been recovered.
Earlier, a fishing boat flotilla threw a single bouquet of yellow flowers into the sea at the site.
The wreck submerged in 47 metres of water less than a kilometre from the shore of the southern island of Lampedusa.
After 155 people were pulled from the water alive on Thursday, strong winds and metre-high waves made it impossible for 40 divers to safely collect bodies. There was little hope of finding more survivors from the almost 500 passengers estimated to have been on board.
“Though the bad sea conditions persist, our guys are ready to go down if a window opens up that makes it safe for them,” coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini said yesterday. The swell is forecast to rise today and slowly diminish from tomorrow.
Though the tiny island takes in thousands of immigrants every year and there have been similar wrecks in the past, residents were shaken by the sheer size of the tragedy.
Lampedusans observed a day of national mourning yesterday, closing petrol stations, restaurants and shops. After an evening mass in honour of the victims, hundreds took part in a silent candlelit march.
A man holding a cross made from the wood of a wrecked boat led the procession past a banner that said: “We want to welcome the living, not the dead.”
“Stop! There are no excuses for indifference” read a banner carried by children.
Some of the nearly 1,000 immigrants now on the island also took part, including 20-year-old Eritrean Afwork, who said he had made a two-day boat journey from Libya a month ago and was now seeking refugee status.
“They were our brothers and sisters. We are very angry. We are very said,” he said.
A black flag bearing the word “shame” was flying over the port, close to a cemetery of rotting boats used by migrants to make past crossings from North Africa.
Lampedusa, a tiny fishing and tourist island halfway between Sicily and the coasts of Tunisia and Libya, has borne the brunt of a crisis which over the years has seen tens of thousands of migrants arrive in unsafe and overcrowded vessels.
The boat, carrying mainly Eritrean and Somalis, sank in the early hours of Thursday after fuel caught fire, triggering a panicked rush to one side of the vessel, which capsized.