Sunday 25 September 2016

Bid to raise death boat amid fear of new drowning tragedy

James Brady in Milan

Published 19/04/2016 | 02:30

Migrants sit in a rubber dinghy during a rescue operation by the SOS Mediterranee ship Aquarius off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Migrants sit in a rubber dinghy during a rescue operation by the SOS Mediterranee ship Aquarius off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Exactly one year after a fishing boat crowded with smuggled migrants capsized, sinking to the Mediterranean Sea floor with some 800 people trapped inside, Italy is launching efforts to raise up the ship and bring it to a Sicilian port.

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Italian naval ships were setting sail yesterday evening from Sicily for the shipwreck site.

There, they will determine how best to lift the wreck, which still contains bodies, from a depth of 360 metres (nearly 1,200 feet).

It will then be towed to the Sicilian port of Augusta in an operation expected to take the rest of the month.

The Italian navy has already recovered 169 bodies found near the wreck, after Italy's premier vowed to recover the corpses out of respect for the dead.

Absurd

A memorial service was held for the victims in Catania, Sicily, at a cemetery where a monument to the victims was erected last year.

Officials expressed indignation at reports, still unconfirmed, of yet another shipwreck in the Mediterranean with possibly hundreds of victims trying to reach Italy from northern Africa.

"Exactly one year after the biggest disaster in the history of migration in the Mediterranean in the new millennium, we are experiencing an absurd replay," Catania Mayor Enzo Bianco said.

"Europe and the world should not be distracted from yet another terrible tragedy."

Two suspected smugglers, a Syrian and a Tunisian, are on trial in Sicily for the April 18, 2015 wreck, facing multiple counts of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and aiding illegal immigration.

Catania prosecutors said systems put in place after another set of tragedies - two deadly shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa in October 2013 - enabled the speedy identification and prosecution of the suspects.

Meanwhile, there were unconfirmed reports that many people are feared to have drowned after the boat they were being transferred to by traffickers capsized in the Mediterranean.

The 41 survivors, migrants mainly from East Africa, spoke to the BBC from the southern Greek city of Kalamata, where they are being held after their rescue.

They said up to 500 people had died, though there has been no official confirmation of the incident.

Earlier, six bodies were found after a separate incident off the Libyan coast.

Neither the Italian nor Greek coast guards have confirmed what would be one of the deadliest migrant boat disasters in recent years.

The groups of Ethiopians, Somalis, Sudanese and Egyptians were rescued by a cargo ship.

The crew told the BBC that the migrants initially refused to be handed over to the Greek coastguard as they were determined to get to Italy.

A Somali woman living in Egypt told the BBC Somali service that three of her relatives, whom she had not heard from since they set out for Europe last Thursday, had died.

The presidents of both Somalia and the self-declared Republic of Somaliland offered their condolences following the reports.

But the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has cast doubt, tweeting that the information hundreds had died appeared "inaccurate".

The fact that the boat capsized at night in open sea may well have contributed to the lack of clear information available, correspondents say.

Irish Independent

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