A wooden boat carrying migrants ran aground on rocky cliffs and broke up before dawn on the coast of Italy, officials said. Rescuers recovered about 60 bodies, and dozens more were missing in the turbulent waters.
UN refugee and migration agencies said authorities believed the death toll could exceed 100 as some survivors indicated the boat had more than 200 passengers when it left Turkey.
The Italian Coast Guard said at least 80 people had been found alive, including some who had made it ashore after the shipwreck off the coast of Calabria along the Ionian Sea. An agency motorboat rescued two people suffering from hypothermia and recovered the body of a boy.
As sunset approached, firefighters said 59 bodies had been found.
State TV said a man had been taken into custody for questioning after survivors indicated he was a smuggler.
The boat hit rocks in rough, wind-driven seas. Three large pieces of the ship ended up on the beach near the town of Staccato di Cutro, where pieces of bright blue wood littered the sand like matchsticks.
“All the survivors are adults,” said Red Cross volunteer Ignazio Mangione. “Unfortunately, all the children are missing or have been found dead on the beach.” A child is being told among the dead.
Motorboats were expected to continue the search throughout the night, despite deteriorating weather conditions. Rescue divers battled the high waves.
Italian state TV quoted survivors as saying the boat had left Turkey five days earlier.
Standing next to the wreckage on the beach, a reporter for Italian RAI state TV noted a lifeboat bearing the word “Smyrna”, a Turkish port also known as Izmir.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration said in a joint statement that more than 170 migrants are estimated to be on board the ship.
Among them were “children and entire families”, according to the UN statement, with most of the passengers from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia.
Earlier, in an indication of the difficulty of establishing how many passengers had traveled on the voyage, Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni said that some 200 people had been crowded into the 20 m (66 ft) boat.
The rescue operation involved a helicopter and police aircraft as well as ships from the state fire brigade, coast guard and border police. Local fishermen also joined the search.
The bodies were brought to the sports stadium in the nearby city of Crotone. A local priest said that he blessed many of them while they were still lying on the beach.
Many survivors wrapped in blankets and quilts were taken by bus to a makeshift shelter. State TV said 22 survivors were taken to hospital.
Pope Francis told the faithful in St Peter’s Square that he was praying for the dead, the missing and the survivors. He said he was also praying for the rescuers and those who welcomed the migrants.
“It is a huge tragedy,” Crotone mayor Vincenzo Vos told RAI. “In solidarity, the city will find a place in the cemetery” for the dead.
In 2022, some 105,000 migrants are expected to arrive on Italian shores, according to Interior Ministry figures, some 38,000 more than in 2021.
According to UN figures, those coming through the Turkish route accounted for 15% of the total number, with about half of them fleeing Afghanistan.
In a statement released by the premier’s office on Sunday, Meloni expressed “deep sorrow for the many human lives ruined by human traffickers.”
It is inhumane to exchange the lives of men, women and children for the ‘price’ of a ticket paid by them in the false prospect of a safe journey. League Party.
She vowed to crack down on organized departures by human traffickers and to press fellow EU leaders to help.
Opposition parties pointed to Sunday’s tragedy as evidence of the flaws in Italy’s migration policy.
“Condemning only traffickers, as the centre-right is now doing, is hypocrisy,” said Laura Ferrara, a member of the European Parliament from the populist 5-Star movement.
“The truth is that the European Union today does not provide effective alternatives for those who are forced to leave their country of origin,” Ferrara said in a statement.
Another route employed by smugglers crosses the central Mediterranean off the coast of Libya, where migrants often face months of brutal detention before being allowed to board rubber boats or old wooden fishing boats for Italian shores. The situation has to be faced. The route is considered one of the deadliest.
Meloni’s government focused a complex effort of humanitarian boats carrying out numerous rescues in the central Mediterranean, assigning them ports of disembarkation along Italy’s northern coasts, meaning that rescuers would be brought after Ships required more time to return to sea, often carrying hundreds of migrants, safely to shore.
Humanitarian organizations have expressed dismay that this action also includes ordering charity boats not to remain at sea after the first rescue operation, in order to carry out other rescue operations, but to proceed immediately to their designated port of safety. Violators face stiff fines and confiscation of the rescue vessel.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella called on the European Union to “concretely assume responsibility for managing the migrant phenomenon in order to finally divert it from traffickers.” He said the European Union should support development in countries where decisions are made by young people who do not see the future. Risking perilous sea voyages.
Italy has complained bitterly for years that some EU countries have refused to take in some of the arrivals, many of whom aim to find family or work in northern Europe.