A search for dozens feared missing after deadly migrant shipwrecks off Italy

Rescuers were scouring the sea off southern Italy searching for survivors or the bodies of dozens of migrants feared missing on Monday after two shipwrecks killed 11 people.

With up to 60 migrants potentially missing at sea, the Italian Coast Guard said it had been searching for “possible missing persons” since Sunday evening, “after a sailboat carrying migrants, supposedly departing from Turkey, sank.”

She added that rescue efforts began after a “mayday” from a French cruise ship about 120 nautical miles off the Italian coast.

The French ship alerted the authorities to the “presence of the half-sunken boat” before carrying 12 surviving migrants on board.

They were then transferred to an Italian Coast Guard boat, which took them to the town of Rossella Ionica in southern Italy.

The Coast Guard said that one of the 12 survivors died after disembarking.

The Italian news agency ANSA reported that about 50 migrants were missing after the ship sank, while Radical Radio estimated the number at 64, adding that those missing at sea were from Afghanistan and Iran.

Doctors Without Borders said it was providing “psychological assistance to all survivors.”

He added that the team “provided support for first aid activities for 12 people, including a woman who died shortly after disembarking due to her serious health condition.”

The Coast Guard said search efforts were continuing on Monday with the European border agency Frontex.

– Basement flooded –

Further south, rescuers who came to the aid of migrants on a wooden boat off the Italian island of Lampedusa found 10 bodies, German relief group ResQship reported on Monday.

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She added that the boat “was full of water. Our crew was able to evacuate 51 people, two of whom were unconscious, and had to be freed with an axe.”

She added, “The ten dead are on the lower deck of the boat, which was flooded.”

The survivors come from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt and Syria, according to the Italian News Agency, which said they paid about $3,500 to travel on the eight-meter boat.

More than 3,150 migrants were killed or disappeared in the Mediterranean last year, according to the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration.

The Central Mediterranean is the deadliest known migration route in the world, accounting for 80 percent of deaths and disappearances in the Mediterranean.

It is widely used by migrants fleeing conflict or poverty, who set off from Tunisia or Libya by boat in an attempt to enter the European Union via Italy.

In its latest mission, the charity SOS Mediterranee said it rescued 54 people, including 28 unaccompanied minors, who were traveling on a rubber boat in the Libyan search and rescue zone on Monday.

– Difficult choice –

The European Union recently adopted a wide-ranging reform to tighten immigration controls at its borders.

Since coming to power in 2022, right-wing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has pledged to significantly reduce the number of people crossing by boat from the coast of North Africa.

Rome has put in place a series of rules to limit the activities of charitable ships accused of attracting migrants, ranging from limiting the number of rescue operations to allocating remote ports for them.

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Under a law adopted at the beginning of 2023, charity ships are obliged to travel “without delay” to port as soon as their first rescue is completed – even if they know of other migrants in difficulty.

In recent months, the Italian Coast Guard has allocated increasingly remote ports to ships, sometimes in difficult weather conditions, at the expense of the physical and mental health of vulnerable migrants.

The charity crews face a difficult choice: either comply with the Italian authorities by leaving the migrant boats adrift despite the risk of people dying, or fail to comply and face the detention of their ships.

The number of arrivals by sea to Italy has fallen significantly since the beginning of the year, with around 23,725 people arriving so far, compared to 53,902 in the same period in 2023, according to the Interior Ministry.

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