Italy’s southern coast was the site of a major migrant tragedy in which 62 people have been reported dead while dozens remain missing. At least seven children have died after a boat broke up within stormy seas off the Calabrian coast this past Sunday.
The boat was reported to have 170 passengers on it with around 80 surviving, while the remaining unaccounted for individuals are feared to have also passed away.
The United Nations and Doctors Without Borders were at the scene of the accident, where they reported a majority of the victims were Afghan, Pakistani, and Iraq; all groups were seeking asylum in the EU.
Monday, two coast guard vessels performed search and rescue from north to south off Steccato di Cutro while a helicopter assisted from the air. Firefighters located three additional bodies on Monday as well.
“I think no, because the sea conditions are too difficult. But we can never abandon this hope,” said provincial fire Commander Roberto Fasano.
Italy is a major destination for migrant smugglers, specifically traffickers from the Libyan shores and Turkey. According to the UN, “ arrivals from the Turkish route accounted for 15% of the 105,000 migrants who arrived on Italian shores last year, with nearly half of those fleeing from Afghanistan.”
Potential refugees from Turkey have been known to take risky journeys through the Mediterranean to avoid Greece, where authorities have been pushing back on migrant entry.
The EU’s Frontex border agency confirmed on Saturday that they saw the migrant ship heading for the Calabrian coast, and Italian authorities were immediately notified. While the ship was initially reported to look overcrowded, there were no reports of danger.
After boat remains were found on the shores near Crotone, Frontex declared a rescue operation to search for survivors.
“It was impossible to conduct any possible maneuver to get close (to the migrant ship) or to carry out a rescue due to the sea conditions. We always have to consider that rescues carried out by institutional rescue teams must avoid putting at risk the lives of the rescuers while they are trying to rescue others,” Interior Minister Matteo Piatedosi said.
Firefighter Inspector Giuseppe Larosa said the “first rescue crews to arrive were devastated by how many children had drowned, and observed that the bodies of the dead had scratches all over them, as if they had tried to hang onto the boat to save themselves.”
“It was a spine-chilling scene, the reaction of the survivors haunted [me]. The thing that struck me the most was their silence. The terror in their eyes and the fact that they were mute. Silent,” Larosa stated.
Rescue efforts are currently still being made to account for all 170 passengers of the vessel.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.