Monday, 30 June 2014

At least 30 dead in migrant boat accident off Italian coast

The Italian navy has found about 30 bodies in a fishing boat carrying hundreds of migrants between Sicily and the North African coast.

The migrants who died appeared to have been asphyxiated.

The discovery was made when rescuers boarded the vessel to evacuate a number of people said to be in distress, two of them pregnant women.

The navy says that over the weekend it rescued more than 5,000 migrants trying to cross from North Africa.

The figure was released soon after news emerged of the discovery of the bodies.

The navy said that those who died were crammed into a compartment below decks.

The fishing boat was carrying about 600 migrants and is now being towed to the town of Pozzallo, southern Sicily.

Correspondents say that it is not clear whether the boat was sinking when it was intercepted.

The BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome says the latest discovery will again focus attention on the dangers faced by those who are so desperate to reach Europe they choose to make the journey aboard hopelessly overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels.

The Italian authorities say more than 60,000 migrants have already landed in southern Italy this year, and that the record of 63,000 set in 2011 is likely to be broken.

Most are from Africa or the Middle East and pay large sums to people smugglers in Libya who transport them in unsafe fishing vessels.

Officials say one reason for the rise in numbers is because of Libya's continuing political instability.

Italy - which bears the brunt of migrants making the perilous crossing - has repeatedly appealed for help from the EU to tackle the problem.

Earlier this month, at least 39 people drowned off Libya after an overloaded, inflatable boat capsized while trying to cross to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Last October, 360 people died when a boat sank off Lampedusa.

The navy said it rescued some 1,577 migrants over the weekend, adding to the nearly 60,000 who have made their way to Italy since the beginning of the year.

That is compared to 42,000 in all of 2013.

Monday 30 June 2014


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