Tunisian navy searches for immigrant bodies

Tunisian rescuers on Sunday trawled the Mediterranean waters where some 50 bodies have been recovered after the sinking of a boat full of would-be immigrants from Africa bound for Italy, but hope is dwindling for the 160 others still missing.

    Three days of searching, but still
    160 missing

    The coast guard said four patrol boats are searching near the Tunisian port of Sfax, where a Libyan trawler overloaded with some 250 passengers capsized overnight last Thursday.

    "We don't have much chance of finding survivors," said an officer of Tunisia's National Guard: "Rescue vessels are trying to pick up bodies from the water."

    The boat sank some 90 km off the Tunisian coast, between the Karkannah and Jarba islands.

    Desperate struggle

    Among the craft's 41 survivors - who are from Mali, Ghana, Liberia, Somalia, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia - several described how they used their bare hands and bundles of clothes to try desperately to stop water pouring into a boat which later capsized.
    "Cracks appeared on the boat as it was sailing and the water began seeping through it. We struggled to fill the cracks with bare hands or using clothes but later the water surged and we were unable to contain it," said Abd ul-Jalil, a 24-year-old Moroccan.
    "The boat overturned because of the high water level and it sank on Friday at around 1:00 a.m.," he told reporters in the Tunisian coastal city of Sfax, where 41 survivors were brought by Tunisian authorities before deportation. 

    "Many of us paid up to $2,000 for the boat trip on the hope to reach Italy and then further to Europe to find a job," said a 28 year-old Somali, who gave his name as Ahmad.
    Some of the survivors swam for more than five hours to make it to Sfax while others were picked up by fishing boats or navy ships, officials said.

    Growing problem

    The Libyan president wants rich 
    nations to invest in Africa to help
    curb illegal immigration 

    The survivors said the wrecked boat sailed from Libya, where leader Muammar Gaddafi had warned European Union leaders that rich states would be swamped by waves of illegal immigration unless they step up cooperation with Africa to increase investments and job opportunities.
    Tunisian officials said the capsized boat was part of a "wave" of several boats spotted off Tunisia's coast sailing to Italy over recent days.

    Rickety vessels filled with illegal immigrants have been arriving on Italy's southern shores almost daily in past weeks, sparking a political row there as one anti-immigration minister threatened to quit and called for the navy to be used to keep them out. 


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