Friday, October 03, 2014


As the world now knows, one year ago today 368 migrants perished off the island of Lampedusa when their overcrowded boat capsized, Today has been a day of remembrance on the island and I thought the best way I could again draw attention to the tragedy would be to re-post what I wrote on that horrific night:

7.14 p.m.

Just as I was thinking that I would be able to bring you a little light relief this evening, I happened to glance at the "Corriere della Sera" site and saw the news of a further tragedy at sea which is unfolding as I write.

The BBC and all main foreign media sites are carrying this one and you will be able to follow events as they happen and see the images on many of these and, of course, on television. I am not a journalist so cannot add to the MSM coverage but I will summarise for you what I know.  If further news of the tragedy breaks later and is not carried by MSM outside Italy, I will try to bring it to you. You will understand that this is an ongoing situation and there are some conflicting reports as to the exact sequence of events and as to numbers involved in the tragedy:

Early this morning fishing boat crews raised the alarm when they saw a migrant boat in difficulty off Lampedusa. The 20-metre boat is reported to have been carrying at least 500 Eritrean, Somali and Ghanaian migrants, among them around 100 women and an unknown number of children. A survivor has told reporters that conditions were so cramped on board that the passengers were unable to move.

The boat was near the southern tip of Lampedusa, off the Isola dei Conigli - which has a beach voted the second best in Italy in a web poll this summer - when the engine failed and the vessel began to take on water. Having no cellphones to call for help, some of the passengers lit a small fire to draw attention to their plight. However, fuel was leaking into the water on board and the fire became an inferno. Panicking, a large number of passengers scrambled to one end of the boat, causing it to capsize and then they began to jump into the sea.

Many could not swim and so far 93 bodies have been recovered. Only three of the women passengers are said to have survived and a three-year-old child is confirmed dead. As I write there is no news of the other children. The last Italian report I consulted said that 159 migrants have been rescued but Italian Coast Guard and police fear that there could be 40 more bodies under the boat and up to 100 inside the wreck. 

Survivors say that the boat left a Libyan port two days ago and that, prior to the lighting of the fire, three fishing boats had spotted the vessel in difficulty but had done nothing to help. This is unconfirmed.

One people-trafficker has been arrested.

Mayor of Lampedusa Giusi Nicolini has described a scene of "continuous horror" as bodies are being laid out on the quayside there.

Prime Minister Letta has spoken of a "terrible tragedy" and Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano has already arrived in Sicily.  He has said that he hopes that the EU recognises that this is an event which involves every EU country. A few minutes ago, Mr Alfano said that he had seen the 93 bodies, a horrifying sight which he had never imagined he would see. He reiterated that Europe must act to prevent this kind of tragedy. "These women and children did not die to come on holiday", the shocked Minister said. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has praised the Italian Coast Guard for their swift action in rescuing so many. President Napolitano has said that Europe and the countries of departure of migrant boats must work together to stop the people traffickers and prevent disasters such as this one. Pope Francis has expressed his "shame" at what has happened and has called upon all nations to unite their strengths in order to ensure that such a tragedy does not happen again.
Latest Italian media reports say that the death toll could rise to over 300.

I cannot close without mentioning my disgust at the Italian political party which has used the situation in order to try to score political points this afternoon and I know that the majority of Italians will join me in this. 

Update at 20.40:  Tomorrow will be a national day of mourning in Italy.
Update at 22.09:  127 bodies have now been recovered, among them those of children. Sky TG24 Italia has interviewed one of the fishermen who first raised the alarm. Visibly moved, he spoke of the horrific scene and how he and his colleague managed to take 47 of the migrants onto their own boat.

It was heartening to read this morning that around 40 survivors of the tragedy returned to the island, after being received by Pope Francis, to thank their rescuers and to remember their fellow-passengers who did not survive.  They came to Italy from several European countries where they have since found refuge. 
The day has not been without its tensions on Lampedusa and this is understandable. However, tonight, on this blog, I just want to remember. Although, in the past year, there has been slightly more international coverage of the migration situation in the Mediterranean, I feel that there has been scant mention of the amazing rescue work that has been carried out by the Italian Navy, Coast Guard and other Mare Nostrum operatives, so let us remember these brave men and women too.
According to figures released by UNHCR today, over 3,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean in the past year and Italy has received 140,000 migrant arrivals since the beginning of 2014, at the rate of 516 per day.
In November Mare Nostrum will be replaced by an EU operation known as Frontex Plus and no one really knows if this will make a difference. Everyone here hopes so. 
The Comitato 3 ottobre, formed to make the 3rd October a day of remembrance for all migrants, says,

"Proteggere le persone, non i confini - Protect people, not borders."


Jenny Woolf said...

So upsetting to have this constantly in the news and not be able to do anything about it. We don't hear much about it here. And yet it is going on constantly.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Jenny. Yes, as you say, it is constant. There has been another tragedy off Libya this week.


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