Sunken migrant boat death toll hits 62 as search continues for missing

Rome, Feb 27 (EFE).- At least 62 people have died after a migrant boat sank off the southern Italian coast as search and rescue operations continued on Monday.

The number of victims is feared to be much higher because many of the migrants that were traveling on the vessel, which sailed from Turkey and was carrying at least 200 people onboard, have not yet been rescued.

Local media reported that three more bodies were recovered Monday morning on the beach next to where the shipwreck took place on Sunday, while two others were discovered nearby.

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

Some 81 survivors were found, 19 were admitted to a hospital and the rest were transferred to a reception center in the nearby town of Isola di Capo Rizzuto.

According to the survivors, the fishing boat in which they were traveling for four days 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 fishing boat left the Eurasian country four days ago with 177 people abroad, according to the Doctors without Borders NGO.

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

The tragedy has sparked controversy because there were no charity rescue ships operating at the time of the shipwreck due to new rules that hamper the work of rescue vessels 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.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres called on refugee and migrant rights to be respected at Monday’s 52nd session of the Human Right’s Council to mark the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Human Rights.

“Yet another horrific shipwreck in the Mediterranean claimed the lives of scores of people seeking a better future for themselves and their children,” Guterres decried.

“Refugee and migrant rights are human rights,” he said. EFE


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