Italian rescuers search for missing in migrant boat sinking
ROME - Agence France-Presse
At least 61 migrants trying to reach Europe through Turkey were drowned yesterday when their boat capsized off the Aegean town of Menderes in İzmir province. DHA PhotoRescuers searched today for missing would-be migrants after plucking 56 people from the sea after their boat sank off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa overnight, rescue services said.
The Italian coastguards, who were searching the area along with customs police and NATO ships, said they had recovered the body of a male migrant.
"We have rescued 56 migrants who were found for the most part in the waters off the islet of Lampione or who had made it onto the rocky shore," coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini told AFP, adding that the group included one woman.
"They are in good health although they are suffering from hypothermia," after spending hours in the water, he said. Those rescued were taken to the nearby welcome centre on the island of Lampedusa, off Italy's southernmost tip.
Some survivors said there had been about 100 people on board, apparently Tunisians, but the exact number of missing was not yet known.
Marini said rescue efforts would continue "as long as there is hope of finding other survivors." Private vessels and deep-sea diving centres in the area, which is very popular with tourists, were asked by the coastguard to join the search.
The fishing boat carrying the migrants sent out a distress signal by satellite phone late Thursday night. It sank about 12 nautical miles off Lampedusa, the Italian island closest to the coast of north Africa.
The first people were pulled from the sea around 0030 GMT, while some managed to swim to the small islet. Two were rescued by a German NATO ship while one exhausted migrant was flown to land by helicopter.
There was no sign of the wrecked boat and Italian media reports speculated as to whether it had quickly sunk or may have been towed back to Tunisia by a "mother boat," which could have taken the remaining migrants with it.
Prosecutors in Agrigento, in Sicily, opened an inquiry into whether there were people traffickers on board, and whether they were among the survivors.
UN refugee agency spokeswoman Laura Boldrini said that "the idea of people smugglers is by now obsolete. Today it is the migrants themselves who take turns in sailing the boat. They are often people with no maritime experience." Each year thousands of illegal migrants, mostly from Africa, cross the Mediterranean Sea in overcrowded and makeshift boats to land in Lampedusa seeking to enter Europe.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, at least 280 people have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean this year.