Over 100 feared dead in migrant boat tragedy: IOM

Rome, Feb 27 (EFE).- Over 100 people are feared to have died after a migrant boat sank off the southern Italian coast as search and rescue operations continued on Monday, a spokesperson for the United Nations’ migration agency told Efe.

“Among the bodies recovered and those who have disappeared, there are a hundred fatalities, an enormous number,” International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman in Italy, Flavio di Giacomo, told Efe.

The expert added that according to the testimonies of survivors, 180 people were traveling on the boat that sailed from Turkey four days before it sank in rough seas near Crotone, Calabria, on Sunday.

So far, 82 survivors have been located and 62 bodies have been recovered.

Among the fatalities were a newborn, 14 minors and 33 women, according to the interior ministry.

“This means that close to 100 people have lost their lives, although we will never know the exact number,” di Giacomo added.

According to the survivors, the fishing boat in which they were traveling broke in half early Sunday after the engine exploded in the middle of the night and sank along with many of the people onboard.

Three people, including a Turkish national, have been detained on suspicion of being members of a human smuggling group that organized the boat journey from Turkey despite the bad weather conditions, local media said.

The Italian Coast Guard has been searching for the migrants that remain missing using divers and helicopters.

The tragedy has sparked controversy because no charity rescue ships were operating at the time of the shipwreck due to new rules that hamper rescue efforts in the Mediterranean imposed by the right-wing government of prime minister Giorgia Meloni.

Geo Barents, a rescue ship operated by Doctors without Borders, was blocked in the port of Ancona for violating the new controversial decree on NGO ships.

However, interior minister Matteo Piantedosi said that migrants should not have left in such weather conditions.

“It is yet another Mediterranean tragedy that cannot leave anyone indifferent,” Italian president Sergio Mattarella said in a statement Sunday, as he expressed his condolences for the victims.

“It is equally essential that the European Union finally takes on the concrete responsibility of governing the migration phenomenon to remove it from the traffickers of human beings,” he added.

Meloni, meanwhile, said it was “criminal to put a boat of barely 20 meters to sea with 200 people onboard and a bad weather forecast.”

“The government is committed to preventing departures, and with them, the unfolding of these tragedies, and will continue to do so,” she added.

The UN had recorded 182 deaths since the beginning of 2023 in the Central Mediterranean, so after Sunday’s tragic accident the IOM will have recorded “almost 280 deaths in these first two months of the year,” according to di Giacomo.

In 2022, 1,417 migrants lost their lives taking the perilous sea routes across the central Mediterranean Sea.

Since records of migrant deaths at sea began in 2014, the IOM has documented 20,500 casualties, a figure that rises to 25,000 if routes across the entire Mediterranean are included.

“The central Mediterranean route, the waters around Italy and Libya, is the most dangerous in the world,” according to di Giacomo.

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