May 24. 2024. 5:17

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Migrant shipwreck in southern Italy leaves dozens dead

At least 59 migrants, including a baby, have died after the boat they were in sunk in southern Italy. Dozens more survived, with many taken to hospital.

The shipwreck took place near Steccato di Cutro, a seaside resort on the eastern coast of Calabria, the region that forms the tip of Italy’s boot. Reports said that a dozen children were among the dead and that there were about 80 survivors.

The incident reopened a debate on migration in Europe and Italy, where the recently elected right-wing government’s tough new laws for migrant rescue charities have drawn criticism from the United Nations and others.

The provisional death toll stands at 59 but is expected to rise, junior interior minister Wanda Ferro told reporters.

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The boat is believed to have set sail from Izmir in western Turkey about four days ago and was spotted about 74km (off the coast late on Saturday) by a plane operated by European Union border agency Frontex, Italian police said.

Patrol boats were mobilised to intercept it, but severe weather forced them to return to port, police said, adding that authorities then mobilised search units along the coastline. Firefighters and other emergency services were looking for more survivors at sea using jet skis, but conditions were harsh, making the search difficult.

Earlier, Italian news agency Ansa reported that 27 bodies were found on the beach and that more bodies were spotted at sea.

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Survivors said at least 140-150 people were on the boat before it got into trouble, said an Italian official.

“When we got to the point of the shipwreck we saw corpses floating everywhere and we rescued two men who were holding up a child,” emergency doctor Laura De Paoli told Ansa.

Cutro’s mayor Antonio Ceraso told SkyTG24 news channel that he had seen “a spectacle that you would never want to see in your life ... a gruesome sight ... that stays with you for all your life”.

Wreckage from the wooden gulet, a Turkish sailing boat, was strewn across a large stretch of coast.

One survivor was arrested on migrant trafficking charges, said the Guardia di Finanza customs police.

“It is a huge tragedy which shows the absolute need to act firmly against irregular migration channels,” said Italian interior minister Matteo Piantedosi.

It is “essential” to stop sea crossings which, offering migrants the “illusory mirage of a better life” in Europe, enrich traffickers and “cause tragedies like today’s”, he said.

Dozens of people have died after a migrant shipwreck off the eastern coast of Italy’s Calabria region.

The Adnkronos news agency said that more than 100 people were aboard the ship, while AGI, another Italian news agency, said a baby and several children were among the dead.

The vessel, bringing migrants from Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, crashed against rocks during rough sea weather, Adnkronos said.

The Italian coast guard, reported to be on the scene with firefighters and other police forces, was not immediately reachable for comment.

Italy is one of the main landing points for migrants trying to enter Europe by sea. The so-called central Mediterranean route is known as one of the world’s most dangerous.

The International Organisation for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project said 20,333 people have died or gone missing in the central Mediterranean since 2014.

Reject accusations

The administration of prime minister Giorgia Meloni has said migrant rescue charities are encouraging migrants to make the dangerous sea journey to Italy, and sometimes work in partnership with traffickers.

Charities strongly reject both accusations.

“Stopping, blocking and hindering the work of NGOs [non-governmental organisations] will have only one effect: the death of vulnerable people left without help,” said Spanish migrant rescue charity Open Arms in reaction to the shipwreck.

However, the coast off Calabria is not routinely patrolled by NGO ships, which operate in the waters south of Sicily. That suggests they would have been unlikely to intercept the shipwrecked migrants regardless of Meloni’s crackdown.

Head of the Italian Catholic Church Cardinal Matteo Zuppi called for resumption of an EU search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean, as part of a “structural, shared and humanitarian response” to the migration crisis.

A spokesman for the United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration, in the same vein, appealed for the strengthening of rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

Flavio Di Giacomo also called for the opening of “more regular migration channels” to Europe and action to “address the multiple causes pushing people to try the sea crossings”.

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023