Disasters & Accidents

Italian authorities rescue 38 shipwrecked migrants

Rome, Mar 8 (EFE).- Italy’s Finance Police rescued 38 migrants whose boat capsized Wednesday in the Mediterranean off the island of Lampedusa, the Coast Guard said.

An aerial patrol of Frontex, the European Union’s border agency, spotted that the boat was in trouble and alerted authorities in Malta, who in turn contacted the Italian Coast Guard, which was already aware of the presence of several overloaded vessels in the same area, roughly 10 miles from Italy’s territorial waters.

A unit of the Finance Police was dispatched aboard a border patrol craft and the crew succeeded in pulling all 38 migrants from the sea, the Coast Guard said.

The rescue comes less than two weeks after at least 72 migrants perished when their boost sank just 150 m (492 ft) from the shore in the southern Italian region of Calabria.

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi rejected accusations from opposition parties and NGOs that the right-wing government’s desire to discourage migration influenced authorities’ response to the emergency on Feb. 26.

The claim that “rescues were supposedly conditioned or even impeded by the government constitutes a grave falsehood that offends, above all, the honor and professionalism of our forces working daily in the sea, in particularly difficult scenarios,” he said in parliament.

The wooden boat that went down in the wee hours of Feb. 26 was also initially detected by Frontex, who passed the information on to Italy without indicating that the vessel was in distress.

Officials in Italy sent two border police boats crewed by Finance Police, but those boats were forced to turn back amid seas of nearly 4 m (13 ft) and high winds.

Before the Italian Coast Guard could respond, the wooden boat went down, apparently after striking a sandbar.

As the search for bodies continues, the death toll stands at 72, while eight of the 80 survivors – some of them pulled from the water by local residents – remain hospitalized. EFE romu/dr

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