News of the incredible numbers of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean over the weekend and on Monday - latest reports are of 7,000 people - is going round the world as I write and yet again, it is the Italian Navy and Coast Guard who have saved these lives.
On Friday we learned that 978 migrants had been rescued in three different operations on that day in the Sicilian Channel and that a body had been found in one of the boats, which had got into trouble 30 miles off the Libyan coast. Then yesterday we read that up to 6,000 desperate people had risked the crossing and been rescued, still off Libya, between Friday and Monday and tonight comes the news that the figure is nearer 7,000 and that 400 migrants from one boat have died.
These poor souls were travelling on a boat carrying 550 when it capsized 80 miles north of Libya. The Italian Coast Guard rescued the others and nine bodies have been recovered so far. In other shocking news we have learned that the body of a migrant who was overcome by petrol fumes on another boat was thrown to sharks and that this was a decision agreed by the other passengers as the boat was being followed by dogfish sharks. The peopler trafficker of this boat has been arrested by Ragusan police and is being questioned not only about aiding illegal immigration but about the death.
There have been several reports that people traffickers fired shots into the air to warn off an Italian Coast Guard vessel which was escorting a tug boat carrying 250 rescued migrants in a separate operation. This would have been because the people traffickers were trying to get their empty boat back. Another theory is that the shots were fired from Libyan ships. However, the Italian Navy, which had ships in the area, has denied that there was any such incident.
Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Lega Nord, has accused Premier Matteo Renzi and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano of "operating a taxi service" by authorising the rescues, which he says only help the people traffickers. Mr Salvini has today been encouraging protesters to occupy schools, hotels and other buildings being used to receive and help migrants as he says they should be used to help Italians in difficulty. Mr Renzi would, I think, reply that a civilised country cannot leave people to die so near its shores.
One can understand people's concerns: yesterday the Lampedusa Migrant Reception Centre, a building with a maximum capacity of 250, was accommodating 1,400 migrants, an alarming situation for both the islanders and the migrants involved. Some of the migrants have now been transferred to mainland Italy but what will happen to them and others like them if the rest of Europe continues to ignore what is happening in the Mediterranean?
EU Commisssioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos is to visit Sicily next week with Angelino Alfano and he has said that a long-term and coherent strategy is needed to deal with this "new" migrant emergency.
I'll close with one ray of hope from these grim four days: a Somali woman in labour on one of the migrant boats was transferred by helicopter from Siracusa to the Maggiore Hospital here in Modica, where her baby boy was safely born. Both mother and son are said to be doing well.
Please note that the situation, along with estimates of the rescued and lost, is changing hourly.