More than 60 dead after migrant shipwreck off southern Italy

There are fears for dozens more people who are believed missing after the tragedy off the Calabrian coast.

More than 60 dead after migrant shipwreck off southern Italy PA Media

Rescue crews are searching for dozens of people believed to be missing from a migrant shipwreck off Italy’s southern coast that left at least 62 people dead.

Eighty people survived the sinking off the Calabrian coast, but rescue crews have recovered 62 bodies, including those of several children. Three more bodies were found on Monday.

Dozens more are feared dead given survivor reports that the ship, which set off from Turkey last week, had carried about 170 people.

The beach at Steccato di Cutro, on Calabria’s Ionian coast, was littered with the splintered remains of the ship that broke up in stormy seas on the reefs offshore, as well as the belongings the migrants had brought with them, including a toddler’s tiny pink trainer and a yellow plastic pencil case decorated with pandas.

The wreckage from a capsized boat washes ashore at a beach near Cutro.PA Media

There were only a few life jackets scattered amid the debris.

The UN and Doctors Without Borders, which had crews on the scene, said many of the victims were Afghans, including members of large families, as well as Pakistanis and Iraqis.

Afghans were the second top nationality to seek asylum in the European Union last year, and have increasingly fled the spiralling security, humanitarian and economic troubles that followed the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

On Monday, two coast guard vessels searched the seas north to south off Steccato di Cutro while a helicopter flew overhead and a four-wheel vehicle patrolled the beach.

A view of part of the wreckage of the capsized boat.PA Media

A strong wind whipped the seas that still churned up splinters of the ship, petrol tanks, food containers and shoes. A pickup truck came to take away the body of the latest victim.

Firefighters confirmed three more bodies had been recovered Monday morning, but held out little hope for finding survivors.

“I think no, because the sea conditions are too difficult,” said provincial fire commander Roberto Fasano. “But we can never abandon this hope.”

Italy’s Sky TG24 said at least three people had been detained on suspicion they helped organize the trip from Izmir, Turkey.

Firefighter Inspector Giuseppe Larosa said what had particularly horrified the first rescue crews who arrived on the scene was how many children had been killed, and that the bodies of the dead had scratches all over them, as if they had tried to hang onto the ship to save themselves.

“It was a chilling scene. Bodies spread out on the beach, so many bodies, so many children,” he said on Monday morning. Mr Larosa said he had focused on the recovery efforts, but he was struck by what he found in the survivors.

“What struck me was their silence,” he said. “Terror in their eyes, but mute. Silent.”

Interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who has spearheaded Italy’s crackdown on migration, visited the scene on Sunday and met local officials in Crotone. At a news conference, he insisted the solution was to put an end to migrant crossings at their origin.

He said: “I ask myself how it’s possible that these crossings are organised, pushing women and children to make the trips that end up tragically dangerous.”

Italy’s government under Premier Giorgia Meloni has focused on trying to block migrant ships from departing, while discouraging humanitarian rescue teams from operating in the Mediterranean.

Ms Meloni said on Sunday that the government was committed to that policy “above all by insisting on the maximum collaboration with the countries of origin and departure”.

Italy has complained bitterly for years that fellow European Union countries have baulked at taking in migrants, many of whom are aiming to find family or work in northern Europe.

The country is a prime destination, especially for smuggling operations launching boats from Libyan shores.

But Italy is also a destination for people smugglers leaving from Turkey. According to UN figures, arrivals from the Turkish route accounted for 15% of the 105,000 migrants who arrived on Italian shores last year, with nearly half of those fleeing from Afghanistan.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for a redoubling of efforts to deal with the problem.

“The resulting loss of life of innocent migrants is a tragedy,” she said.

Ms Meloni’s government has concentrated on complicating efforts by humanitarian boats to make multiple rescues in the central Mediterranean by assigning them ports of disembarkation along Italy’s northern coasts.

That means the vessels need more time to return to the sea after bringing migrants aboard and taking them safely to shore.

Humanitarian organisations have lamented that the crackdown also includes an order to the charity boats not to remain at sea after the first rescue operation in hopes of performing other rescues, but to head immediately to their assigned port. Violators face stiff fines and confiscation of rescue vessels.

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