4 Oct 2013

Up to 350 feared dead after Lampedusa boat disaster

With 111 bodies found so far, the final victim count in Thursday’s migrant boat tragedy off Italy could reach three times that number. What can be done to prevent similar events in future?

In total, more than 300 people seeking asylum in Italy are believed to have died after a ship carrying around 500 sank off the coast of Lampedusa.

Italian rescue workers have pulled 111 bodies from the water, and 155 from the boat have been rescued.

“Two motorboats remained in the area overnight and this morning divers resumed work but we expect to recover more than a hundred bodies from the ship,” said coastguard official Floriana Segreto.

We need to change the current laws on immigration that produce nothing but death. Rosario Crocetta, Sicily region president

The head of the Italian coastguard has said rescue workers will continue search operations off the island of Lampedusa for as long as is needed, as the disaster fuels a poltical row over immigration in Italy.

“Above all, we need to change the current laws on immigration that produce nothing but death,” said Rosario Crocetta, president of the Sicily region.

Speaking in the Italian parliament after visiting Lampedusa, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said the EU had to protect its borders and there would be more deaths at sea unless action was taken.

Pope Francis said it was a “day of tears”, caused by a “savage” system that drives people from their homes in search of a better life, but does not care if they die en route.

Eritreans and Somalis

The disaster was triggered when fuel caught fire, causing passengers to rush to one side of the boat, capsizing it. Among the dead were a young child and a pregnant woman.

“The migrants told us there were about five hundred of them,” said Veronica Lentini, from the International Organisation for Migration. “The boat capsized and they fell in the water, but many of them were trapped inside the boat.”

The boat sank just half a mile off the coast of Lampedusa, and was reported to be carrying Eritreans and Somalis. Lampedusa is a gateway for many migrants into Europe, with thousands of migrants arriving there each year.

Italian coast guard ships, fishing boats and helicopters from across the region have been taking part in the search and rescue operations.


Coast guard divers found the wreck of the boat on the sea bed, 130 feet below the surface, with bodies scattered around it.

Rescue crews hauled body bags by the dozens into Lampedusa port, lining them up under multicolored tarps on the docks.

The sinking was one of the deadliest accidents in the perilous crossing that thousands make each year, seeking a new life in Europe. Smugglers charge thousands of dollars a head for the journey aboard overcrowded, barely seaworthy boats that lack life vests.

Italy has been holding a day of mourning, with schools observing a minute’s silence in memory of the victims.