Dozens dead in new boat tragedy off Lampedusa


VALLETTA: Dozens of migrants, including children, died on Friday when their boat sank off Malta near the Italian island of Lampedusa, officials said just over a week after a similar tragedy killed more than 300 refugees.

Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said at least 27 migrants were dead after the heavily loaded boat capsized in rough seas on Friday around 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Lampedusa and 110 kilometres from Malta.

Italian news agency Ansa said about 50 bodies, including women and around 10 children, had been pulled from the sea.

“Operations to recover the bodies are ongoing,” Muscat told journalists.

Around 150 survivors have already been picked up by a Maltese ship, the prime minister said.

The Italian navy has rescued around 50 survivors, and more rescue boats and helicopters have been sent to the site. The Maltese navy swiftly dispatched rescue ships and helicopters and diverted commercial vessels to the area.

Italy sent two naval vessels and helicopters carrying inflatable life rafts.

“The operation is in progress. The navigational conditions are difficult, with strong wind,” a Maltese navy spokesman told AFP.

An Italian helicopter carrying around 10 surviving children landed on the tiny island of Lampedusa, where hundreds of migrants are already seeking refuge in a seriously overcrowded reception centre.

European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstroem said she was following the rescue operations ‘with sadness and anxiety’ and praised Italy and Malta for their swift response.

“These new horrible events are happening while we still have the shocking images of the tragedy in Lampedusa in our minds,” she said, adding that the latest disaster highlighted the need for expanded search and rescue operations ‘to better detect and assist boats in distress’.

The Commission has been urging EU states to pledge planes, ships and funds for EU border guard service Frontex, whose budget has been cut.

Italian Prime Minister called the latest tragedy “a new and dramatic confirmation of the state of emergency”.

“Italy and Malta cannot be left all alone, this is a European problem,” said his Maltese counterpart, Muscat, who spoke with Letta by phone.

The migrants in Friday’s disaster alerted the authorities using a satellite phone when their boat got into difficulty in Maltese waters.

The boat capsized after those aboard attempted to catch the attention of a military aircraft flying overhead by gathering at one end of the vessel, the Maltese navy said. — AFP