- by Katherine Armstrong
- BBC News
More than 40 migrants, including a child, were killed and dozens survived after a boat capsized in rough seas off southern Italy.
The ship reportedly broke down while trying to land near the coastal town of Crotone in the Calabria region with about 150 people on board.
Several bodies have been recovered from the beach at a nearby seaside resort.
Large numbers of people cross from Africa to Italy every year, fleeing conflict and poverty.
“At present, 80 people have been recovered alive, including some who managed to reach the shore after drowning,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.
“Forty-three bodies have been found along the beach,” he said.
Manuela Carra, a local government official, told Reuters news agency that the boat had left the Turkish coastal city of Izmir three or four days ago.
Italian officials said the people on board were mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Iran, and President Sergio Mattarella said many were fleeing “very difficult circumstances”.
Customs police said one survivor was arrested on charges of migrant smuggling.
Adnkronos news agency said the ship sank after hitting rocks during bad weather.
Italian authorities have launched a massive search and rescue operation on land and at sea.
Video footage showed wood from the wreckage being smashed into pieces and drifting onto the beach along with parts of the hull.
Victims can be seen huddled under blankets, being looked after by Red Cross workers. Some have been taken to the hospital.
“The landing took place but there had never been a tragedy like this,” the mayor of Kruto, Antonio Cerasso, told Rai News.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni – elected last year partly on a pledge to stem the flow of migrants to Italy – expressed “deep sorrow” for the incident, blaming the deaths on smugglers.
“It is inhumane to exchange the lives of men, women and children for the price of a ‘ticket’ in the false perspective of safe travel,” he said in a statement.
“The Government is committed to stopping the departures, and the tragedies these bring with them, and will continue to do so.”
Italy’s former economy minister, Carlo Calenda, said people in distress at sea must be rescued “no matter what the cost”, but added that “illegal immigration routes must be closed”.
Ms Meloni’s right-wing government has vowed to stop migrants reaching Italy’s shores and in the past few days has implemented a tough new law tightening rules on rescues.
According to monitoring groups, more than 20,000 people have died or gone missing at sea in the central Mediterranean since 2014.
European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen said she was “deeply saddened” by the incident, adding that “the loss of innocent migrant lives is a tragedy”. He said it was vital to “redouble our efforts” to make progress on reforming EU asylum rules to tackle the challenges related to migration in Europe.
Pope Francis, who often defends the rights of migrants, has said he is praying for the dead, missing and survivors.