ROME: Seven people died and nine are missing after an eight-meter-long boat carrying a group of migrants capsized on Wednesday in waters only a few miles away from the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.
Four women, one of whom was in an advanced stage of pregnancy, were among the victims, a spokesman for the Coast Guard headquarters in Palermo, the Sicilian Capital, confirmed to Arab News.
Agrigento Prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio said he believes the boat departed from Tunisia as his team has opened an investigation into the tragedy.
“At the sight of the Coast Guard patrol boats, all the migrants moved on one side of the boat, which became unbalanced and capsized,” the magistrate said. “Then they all ended up in the water.”
He added his office is investigating possible links between the tragedy and illegal migrant smugglers based in Tunisia.
Italian rescuers managed to pick up 46 survivors from the waters between Lampedusa and Lampione, a rock five miles away from the Island. According to accounts from the survivors, nine people are still missing.
“Most of them could be children,” the spokesman for the Coast Guard in Palermo said.
“We will keep on searching intensely, in cooperation with the finance police, the area where the boat sunk. The seven bodies we brought to shore thus far include four women, one of whom was visibly pregnant”.
Most of the victims are said to have come from Senegal.
All the survivors were taken to the migrants’ reception center in Lampedusa. The situation in the Imbriacola facility, which was designed to host 250 people, is considered “unsustainable.” Local authorities said more than 650 migrants are there to be identified and tested for COVID-19 before being transferred to the Italian mainland.
Four boats carrying a total of 256 people arrived at Lampedusa overnight, while on Tuesday four more boats carrying 136 people landed on the island.
“This latest tragedy in the Mediterranean is heartbreaking. I wonder what else has to happen to make Italy and Europe understand that we cannot go on like this,” Lampedusa’s mayor, Toto Martello, said.
“We cannot carry on with the logic of a continuous emergency, we must take a different approach to the migration issue free from political speculations. And we must act now, as facts demonstrate that while politicians argue and discuss people die at sea.”
Arrivals in Italy, one of the main migrant routes into Europe, have been falling in recent years, but numbers picked up again in 2021. Approximately 19,800 migrants have arrived since the beginning of the year — many of them fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East — against more than 6,700 in the same period last year, the latest Interior Ministry figures show.