Death toll in Italy migrant boat wreck rises to 94, hundreds more missing

Updated: 2013-10-03 19:33


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Death toll in Italy migrant boat wreck rises to 94, hundreds more missing
Rescued migrants arrive onboard a coastguard vessel at the harbour of Lampedusa October 3, 2013. An estimated 500 passengers on a boat that sank off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Thursday were all believed to be Eritreans coming from Libya, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration said.  [Photo/Agencies]

ROME - The death toll from the wreck of a fishing boat carrying about 500 African migrants near the Italian island of Lampedusa has risen to 94, with about 250 still missing, according to local reports Thursday.

According to the survivors, the boat was from Libya and ran aground, and then it caught fire and capsized when the migrants set fire to a blanket to attract the attention of the islanders.

"We decided to light a fire to get us notice. But the bridge was contaminated with oils, and in a few moments the boat was engulfed in flames," one of the migrants was quoted as saying by Corriere della Sera newspaper.

"Many of us plunged into the sea among the screams as the boat turned upside down," he added.

Rescue teams have recovered the corpses of 94 people, including some women and four children, who drowned as they tried to swim to shore. But the victims, mainly from Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia according to media reports, could be a lot more.

Over 150 migrants have been rescued up to now by the coast guard, which received an alarm from two fishing boats in the area, and was still searching for more victims. Some of the migrants said other ships were transiting near them but did not stop.

ANSA news agency said that Italian police have detained one Tunisian national suspected of being "human trafficker," who was among the survivors.

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta described the accident as a "huge tragedy." He rushed to the scene with Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano.

President Giorgio Napolitano said that what he called "journeys of despair and death" by asylum should be better controlled by the whole Europe.

There is the "the absolute necessity of decisions and action by the international community, and the European Union in the first place," he said commenting on the tragedy.

Thousands of African migrants try the hazardous Mediterranean crossing to Italy every year. A recent study found some 6,200 migrants had died in southern Italian waters since 1994.

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