At least two killed, dozens missing in shipwrecks off Italy’s coast

Italian coastguard says it has recovered two bodies and rescued 57 people after two boats sink off island of Lampedusa.

Migrants and refugees on board of NGO Proactiva Open Arms rescue boat look at boat Guardia Costiera heading to Lampedusa island, in central Mediterranean Sea, close to Lampedusa island, Italy, August 19, 2022 [File: Juan Medina/Reuters]

At least two people have been killed and dozens of others were missing after two shipwrecks off the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The Italian coastguard said on Sunday it had recovered two bodies and rescued 57 people following the sinkings.

Around 28 people were reported lost at sea by survivors on one boat, while three were reported missing from the second after both went down in stormy weather on Saturday, said the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Both were rickety iron boats believed to have set off from Sfax in Tunisia on Thursday.

One was carrying 48 people, the second 42, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Cultural mediators with the IOM believed there were “at least 30 people missing” after speaking to the survivors, press officer Flavio Di Giacomo told the AFP news agency.

An investigation into the shipwrecks has been opened in Agrigento, on the nearby Italian island of Sicily.

More than 2,000 people have arrived in Lampedusa in the last few days after being rescued at sea by Italian patrol boats and NGO groups, as strong winds further complicate the situation around the island.

Agrigento’s chief of police Emanuele Ricifari said the human traffickers putting migrants and refugees out to sea would have known rough seas were forecast.

“Whoever allowed them, or forced them, to leave with this sea is an unscrupulous criminal lunatic,” he told Italian media.

“Rough seas are forecast for the next few days. Let’s hope they stop. It’s sending them to slaughter with this sea,” he said.

Twenty trapped along rocky coastline

As the stormy weather continued, fire brigade and alpine rescue teams were preparing Sunday to pull to safety some 20 people trapped on a rocky part of Lampedusa’s coastline.

They have been there since late Friday after their boat was tossed onto the rocks by strong winds.

They have been provided with food, water, clothes and emergency thermal blankets by the Red Cross, but the coastguard has been unable to rescue them by sea due to the high waves.

Should the winds not drop, rescuers could begin winching them up the 140-metre (460-foot) high cliff to safety, according to media reports.

The Central Mediterranean crossing from North Africa to Europe is the world’s deadliest.

Over 1,800 people have died attempting it so far this year; Di Giacomo said – almost 900 more than last year.

“The truth is that figure is likely to be much higher. Lots of bodies are being found at sea, suggesting there are many shipwrecks we never hear about,” he said.

The number of bodies found has increased, particularly on the so-called Tunisian route, which has become increasingly dangerous, Di Giacomo said, because of the type of boats used.

Migrants and refugees are being put out to sea by traffickers “in iron boats which cost less than the usual wooden ones, but are utterly unseaworthy, they easily break up and sink”, he said.

Migrants also often have the engines stolen from their boats at sea, so that traffickers can reuse them.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies