Italy boat sinking: hundreds of migrants feared dead
Italian president calls for EU action to stem 'the succession of massacres of innocent people'
MORE than 130 people have drowned and hundreds more are missing after a boat packed with African migrants sank off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.
In what has been described as one of the worst disasters of Europe's chronic immigration crisis, the vessel caught fire and went down half a mile from Lampedusa's shore yesterday morning.
Those on board had apparently set fire to a sheet to attract the attention of rescuers after the boat's motor failed. But this ignited fuel on the vessel and, as panic spread among the passengers, the boat capsized and sank.
The 20-metre boat, believed to be carrying around 500 migrants from Eritrea and Somalia, set out from the Libyan port of Misrata, reports the BBC. More than 150 people were rescued by fishing boats and coast guard, while 104 bodies, including at least three children and two pregnant women, had been recovered by Friday morning. Divers have seen dozens more bodies trapped in the sunken ship taking the death toll past 130.
Bodybags have been lined up at a port on Lampedusa, the scene has been described by the island's mayor, Giusi Nicolini, as "horrific, like a cemetery".
The island is just 80 miles from Tunisia, making it closer to Africa than it is to the Italian mainland, and is a frequent destination for boats carrying smugglers and refugees. More than 200,000 migrants have reportedly passed through the island since 1999, with a surge in 2011 during the Arab Spring.
But it is a dangerous journey, with people often packed into rickety wooden boats exposed to the elements. According to CNN, the Italian coast guard has been involved in the rescue of more than 30,000 refugees around the island in recent years. In 2012, almost 500 people were reported dead or missing on the crossing. Yesterday's fatalities come just four days after 13 migrants drowned when their boat foundered off eastern Sicily.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano has said action is needed by the European Union to stem "a succession of massacres of innocent people".
Pope Francis visited Lampedusa in July and criticised what he described as "global indifference" to the island's refugee crisis and denounced the traffickers who exploited migrants and took great risks with their lives. ·