At least 58 bodies, including many children, were recovered by the Coast Guard, who intervened to rescue the distressed boat. 27 bodies washed up on the beach. 80 survivors were recovered by noon. An investigation was launched into a man identified by authorities as a smuggler.
The rescue units that were deployed after the shipwreck off the coast of the southern Italian region of Calabria were faced with dramatic scenes. “The sea was rough, it was difficult to approach. The migrants’ boat was already in ruins on the beach, and there were a lot of bodies floating around us,” said the doctor Laura De Pauli, which has already worked with various humanitarian associations and NGOs on sea rescue. “I’ve been to a lot of sea rescues but there hadn’t been any casualties so far, this time it was devastating,” said De Paoli.
- ZIB 1: Cornelia Vospernik (ORF) talks about the serious boat accident off southern Italy.
The overloaded fishing boat, which according to the coast guard had about 120 people from Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan on board, could not withstand the rough sea and crashed into rocks a few meters off the coast. It broke in two. The debris was scattered 300 meters off the coast. Among the dead were women and children. 80 migrants were rescued. Many of them could swim to shore. Patrol boats are busy at sea in search of survivors. Police and Carabinieri as well as Red Cross employees also rushed to the scene of the accident.
About 150 people on board
“According to survivors, there were 140 to 150 people on board,” provincial government official Manuela Curra told Reuters on the phone. The boat left Izmir in eastern Turkey three or four days ago.
The accident caused great consternation in Italy. Italian President Sergio Mattarella called for “a strong commitment from the international community to eliminate the causes of migration flows: wars, persecution, terrorism, poverty and climate change”. The EU must “take concrete responsibility for controlling the migration phenomenon in order to take it away from the human traffickers”.
Meloni: “Criminal and inhuman”
“It is criminal to set sail in a boat barely 20 meters long with up to 200 people on board when the weather forecast is bad. It is inhumane to trade the lives of men, women and children for the price of a ticket that they can use in the… deceptive prospect of a safe journey,” commented Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Your government is committed to preventing migrant departures and to strengthening cooperation with the countries of origin of the refugees. The “illusion of immigration without rules” must be combated.
The head of the anti-immigrant Lega party and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini blamed the smugglers for the tragedy, who “send increasingly unsafe and shabby boats into the sea and collect millions of dollars in return, which are reinvested in weapons and drugs”. “Stopping traffickers is everyone’s moral duty, especially to save innocent lives,” Salvini said.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi spoke of a “huge tragedy”. Now it is important to continue efforts to stop the departure of migrants from North Africa. “It is absolutely necessary to combat the phenomenon of illegal immigration. Unscrupulous human traffickers are at work who, in order to enrich themselves, organize improvised trips in unseaworthy boats and under unacceptable conditions,” lamented the interior minister.
Italy’s Red Cross President Rosario Valastro called for more action by the authorities to prevent such tragedies. “Our staff are at work treating the survivors and recovering the bodies,” Valastro said.
The NGOs active in rescue operations in the Mediterranean were also dismayed. “Another disaster in the Mediterranean: pain and dismay for the victims. Men, women and children. It is unbearable that the only way to Europe is by sea. The lack of a European search and rescue mission is a crime that everyone repeated day,” commented the German NGO SeaWatch.
During the Angelus prayer, the Pope expressed his dismay at the tragedy of refugees off the coast of Calabria. He prays for the dead, for the missing and for the survivors. He thanked the rescuers and all those providing support to the survivors.
New law makes the work of sea rescuers more difficult
Every year, thousands of migrants try to reach Italy and thus Europe from North Africa, often on unseaworthy boats. Serious accidents happen again and again. According to the Italian Ministry of the Interior, 13,067 migrants have entered the country by sea up to and including Thursday this year, more than twice as many as in the same period last year (5,273). Since 2014, 25,800 people have died or are missing on sea voyages across the central Mediterranean, 120 of them in 2023 alone, said the children’s network Unicef.
A new law by the right-wing Meloni government, which was passed by parliament this week, also makes the work of civilian sea rescuers more difficult. However, the majority of migrants arrive in Italy on their own ships and boats.