ROME – A wooden boat carrying migrants ran aground on rocky cliffs early Sunday off the Italian coast, authorities said. Rescuers recovered nearly 60 bodies, and dozens more were missing in rough waters.
Officials fear the death toll could be more than 100, as some survivors indicated there were about 200 passengers on the boat that left Turkey, the United Nations refugee and migration agency said.
At least 80 people have been found alive, including some who washed ashore after a shipwreck off the coast of Calabria in the Ionian Sea, the Italian coast guard said. An agency motorboat rescued two hypothermic victims and recovered the body of a boy.
As sunset approached, firefighters said 59 bodies had been recovered.
One man was taken into custody for questioning after fellow survivors pointed out that he was a smuggler, state television reported.
The boat collided with the rocks in the rough, windy sea. Three large pieces of the ship ended up on the beach near the town of Steccato de Cutro, where splintered pieces of bright blue wood were scattered on the sand like matches.
“All the survivors are adults,” Red Cross volunteer Ignacio Mangione said. “Unfortunately, all the children are either missing or found dead on the beach.” A child was also reported among the dead.
Motorboats were expected to continue searching through the night, despite the poor weather. Rescue workers battled high waves.
Italian state television, citing survivors, said the boat had left Turkey five days earlier.
Standing near the wreckage on the beach, a reporter from Italy’s RAI state TV spotted a lifeguard bearing the word “Smyrna,” the Turkish port also known as Izmir.
More than 170 migrants were estimated to be on board, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration said in a joint statement.
Among them were “children and entire families”, according to the UN report, most of the passengers from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia.
Earlier, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said the 20-meter (66-foot) boat was about 200 people, hinting at the difficulty of establishing how many passengers had set off on the voyage.
The rescue operation involved a helicopter and a police aircraft as well as vessels from the state fire brigade, coast guard and border police. Local fishermen were also involved in the search.
The bodies were brought to a playground in the nearby town of Crotone. A local priest said he blessed many of them as they lay on the beach.
Many of the survivors, wrapped in blankets and blankets, were bussed to temporary shelters. State television reported that 22 survivors were taken to hospital.
Pope Francis told the faithful in St. Peter’s Square to pray for the dead, the missing and the survivors. He said he is praying for rescuers and those who welcome migrants.
“It’s a great tragedy,” Crotone mayor Vincenzo Vos told RAI. “In unity, the city will find places in the cemetery” for the dead.
In 2022, around 105,000 migrants arrived on Italian shores, 38,000 more than in 2021, according to Interior Ministry figures.
According to United Nations statistics, those from the Turkish route accounted for 15% of the total, and almost half fled Afghanistan.
In a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday, Maloney expressed his “deep regret for the loss of so many human lives by human traffickers”.
“It is inhumane to exchange the lives of men, women and children for the ‘price’ of a ticket they pay in the false expectation of safe travel,” said Meloni, the far-right leader whose governing allies include anti-immigrants. League Party.
He vowed to crack down on departures organized by human traffickers and pressure fellow EU leaders to help.
Opposition parties pointed to Sunday’s tragedy as evidence of flaws in Italy’s immigration policy.
“It is hypocritical to condemn only the traffickers, as the centre-right is now doing,” said Laura Ferrara, a member of the European Parliament from the populist 5-Star Movement.
“The reality is that the European Union today does not offer effective alternatives to those who are forced to leave their home country,” Ferrara said in a statement.
Another route used by smugglers crosses the central Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya, where migrants endure months of brutal detention before being allowed to board rubber dinghies or aging wooden fishing boats for shores in Italy. This route is considered to be very dangerous.
Meloni’s government has focused on complicating the efforts of humanitarian boats to carry out many rescue missions in the central Mediterranean. , safely ashore.
Humanitarian organizations have lamented that after the first rescue operation, aid boats were ordered not to remain at sea and immediately go to their designated port of safety in the hope of carrying out other rescue operations. Violators face heavy fines and confiscation of the salvage vessel.
He said Italian President Sergio Mattarella must finally accept responsibility for managing the migration phenomenon in order to rid the EU of human traffickers. Danger of perilous sea voyages.
Italy has complained bitterly for years that fellow EU countries block some arrivals, many of whom aim to find family or work in northern Europe.