By Libya Herald Staff.
Tripoli, 3 October 2013:
Italy was in shock today after hundreds of illegal African migrants drowned when the boat they had taken from Misrata caught fire and sank off the island of Lampedusa. It has been described as the worst boat disaster in years. So far over 100 bodies have been recovered but 40 more are believed to be inside the wreck. Some 160 people have survived. More than another 200 are still missing. There were around 500 on the boat. Most of them were Eritreans and Somalis.
There have been other migrant boat disasters in the Mediterranean. But nothing as devastating as this for a long while. Italy has declared a day of national mourning tomorrow, Friday.
Although it was originally reported that the wooden boat had set out from Tripoli, the Italian Interior Minister, Angelino Alfano, has said it came from Misrata. He added that after its motor stopped, it began taking on water. A fire then occurred when passengers set fire to a towel to attract passing ships. The flames spread, the passengers then moved to one side to escape them and the 20-metre boat capsized, the Italian minister told a news conference.
“We only need coffins, certainly not ambulances” the chief of health services on Lampedusa, said.
Criticism of Libya for turning a blind eye to the illegal trafficking of migrants and the involvement of local people who have been profiteering from it and using boats in dangerous condition is expected, particularly from Italy.
With so many migrant boats heading out from Libyan ports, locals are known to be deeply involved in the illicit business.
“We are doing our utmost effort to wrest from the sea as many lives as possible,” Admiral Felicio Angrisano, the head of the Italian coast guard said. The rescue operation has involved it, the Italian navy and merchant ships.
In a separate incident today, it was reported that in another vessel, containing some 200 migrants and also believed to have come from Libya, had to be escorted to Siracusa in Sicily when it got into difficulties.