At least 62 people, including 12 children, have died after a boat carrying refugees sank off the Italian coastal city of Crotone in the southern region of Calabria.
The vessel had set sail from Turkey several days ago with refugees from Afghanistan, Iran and several other countries, and crashed on Sunday in stormy weather near Steccato di Cutro, a seaside resort on the eastern coast of Calabria.
Eighty-one people survived, with 20 hospitalised including one person in intensive care, Manuela Curra, a provincial government official, told the Reuters news agency.
One survivor was arrested on migrant trafficking charges, the Guardia di Finanza customs police said.
Cutro’s mayor, Antonio Ceraso, said women and children were among the dead. The exact number of child fatalities was not yet available.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
His voice cracking up, Ceraso told the 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”.
Curra said the vessel left Izmir in eastern Turkey three or four days ago, adding that survivors had said some 140 to 150 were on board.
The survivors were mostly from Afghanistan, as well as a few from Pakistan and a couple from Somalia, she said, adding that identifying the nationalities of the dead was difficult.
“Many of these migrants came from Afghanistan and Iran, fleeing conditions of great hardship,” Italian President Sergio Mattarella said.
The latest tragedy comes just days after Italy’s hard-right government pushed through parliament a controversial new law on rescuing refugees.
The law forces rescue vessels to make just one rescue attempt at a time, which critics say risks increasing the number of drownings in the central Mediterranean.
Far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was elected last September partly on a promise to stem the flow of refugees reaching Italian shores.
In a statement on Sunday, she expressed her “deep sorrow” over the incident and “the many human lives cut short by human traffickers”.
Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said in a separate statement that the incident was “a huge tragedy which shows the absolute need to act firmly against irregular migration channels.”
Pope Francis, a vocal advocate for refugee rights, said he was praying for everyone caught up in the shipwreck during his Sunday address to crowds in St Peter’s Square.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was “deeply saddened” by the “tragedy” and called for progress on a stalled reform of EU asylum rules.
“We must redouble our efforts on the (EU) Pact on Migration and Asylum and on the Action Plan on the Central Mediterranean,” she wrote on Twitter.
Italy is one of the main landing points for refugees trying to enter Europe by sea.