Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- A boat carrying immigrants capsized near the Italian island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily, killing at least 93 people, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano said.
A fire broke out on the boat, which had about 500 people on board, including women and children, before it capsized, according to the Interior Ministry website. At least 250 people are still missing. Several bodies have been found in the capzised ship, which is now 40 meters underwater, Alfano told reporters in Lampedusa. His comments were broadcast by Rainews24.
Alfano flew to the island today to oversee the search-and-rescue operations. He said the issue of migrants involves both Italy and the European Union, adding that he spoke to European Commission President Jose Barroso today. Italian television showed dozens of corpses being carried away in body bags and coast guard ships continuing to patrol the area in search of the missing.
“I commend the swift action taken by the Italian Coast Guard to save lives,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in an e-mailed statement. “At the same time, I am dismayed at the rising global phenomenon of migrants and people fleeing conflict or persecution and perishing at sea.”
The wooden boat left the Libyan port of Misrata two days ago, Alfano said. The immigrants are believed to be mainly from Eritrea, the United Nations’ refugee agency said in the statement.
Wave of Migrants
Prime Minister Enrico Letta said in a twitter post today that the accident is an “enormous tragedy.” In a separate e-mailed statement he announced a day of mourning for the victims tomorrow.
Located between Malta and Tunisia in the Mediterranean Sea, Lampedusa often receives waves of immigrants seeking a backdoor entry into Europe. Every summer, when waters are calmer, thousands of Africans brave the dangerous 110 kilometer (70 mile) voyage packed in small boats.
Today’s tragedy follows the Sept. 30 death of 13 immigrants off the Sicilian coast near the town of Scicli after smugglers allegedly forced them to jump into rough waters.
“The word ’shame’ springs to mind,” Pope Francis, who visited the island on July 8, said today in comments posted on the Vatican website.
Transportation Minister Maurizio Lupi said Italy and the European Union must take up the fight against human traffickers who “take advantage of poor people’s hopes.”
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