Dozens missing in Italy after boat capsizes

At least 56 people rescued after boat carrying north African migrants to Lampedusa capsizes in Mediterranean Sea.

    One body was recovered and 56 people were rescued from the shipwreck [EPA]
    One body was recovered and 56 people were rescued from the shipwreck [EPA]

    Rescue crews are searching the waters off the coast of Italy for survivors of a migrant boat that capsized while approaching the port in Lampedusa, officials say.

    Italian and NATO crews rescued 56 people and recovered one body, but passengers said that dozens more people were still missing.

    The survivors, all of them believed to be Tunisian, included a pregnant woman, said Commander Filippo Marini, a spokesperson for the Italian coast guard.

    They were rescued from the sea as well as on the uninhabited islet of Lampione west of Italy's Lampedusa island, the frequent destination of smugglers' boats leaving north Africa.

    Marini said by telephone that Italian and NATO vessels and aircraft were searching the area around Lampedusa for survivors since passengers continued to report that more than 100 people had been on board.

    The fishing boat carrying the migrants sent out a distress signal by satellite phone late on Thursday night.

     

    It sank about 12 nautical miles off Lampedusa, the Italian island closest to the coast of north Africa.

    The first people were pulled from the sea around 00:30 GMT on Friday, while some managed to swim to a small islet.

    Marini said there was no trace of the boat, which according to the initial reports was an old, 10-metre wooden vessel.

    Tens of thousands of migrants, many on board smugglers' boats, head to Italy's shores every year, primarily from north Africa.

    Judith Sunderland, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera the incident "illustrates the desperate  measures that people fleeing persecution, fleeing conflict and fleeing desperate poverty are willing to take in order to reach Europe".

    "Everybody is aware of these migration flows and these migration routes across verious parts of the Mediterranean and everybody knows that during the summer season, hundreds if not thousands will attempt the crossing, usually in overcrowded, un-seaworthy rickety boats in the hands of people who often have no expertise and without the proper equipment.

    "[This incident] demonstrates the need for far greater co-ordination both within the EU and between the EU and its neighbours ... to try and prevent these deaths," she said.

    Amnesty International reported that in 2011 alone, at least 1,500 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Europe.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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