50 Tunisians rescued off the coast of Lampedusa by the Coast Guard, which had transferred them off of a small boat. Archive photo/ANSA
50 Tunisians rescued off the coast of Lampedusa by the Coast Guard, which had transferred them off of a small boat. Archive photo/ANSA

Large migrant boats full of passengers have decreased in the Strait of Sicily, but there is a rising concern in Italy over the possible return of smaller vessels that can evade patrols and land autonomously on the country's shores.

The Strait of Sicily appears calm following the blockage of Italian ports to large migrant boat arrivals departing Libya. However, authorities patrolling the waters between the southern coasts of the island of Lampedusa and North Africa are concerned that small independent arrivals could start again, reminiscent of migrant arrivals in the late 1990s. 

These arrivals could consist of small vessels that perhaps depart from the shores of Tunisia with only a few people aboard and are able to evade patrol boats. 

Recent arrivals 

Signs of the return of this type of arrival are already being seen. On the night of August 31, six vessels with 66 migrants aboard were stopped on Lampedusa. Carabinieri police first blocked three vessels, with 30 people aboard, that had just docked at the Favaloro pier. Immediately after, they stopped another small boat with 14 people aboard that had managed to arrive just a bit further inland at Cala Palme. The Coast Guard intercepted and stopped another two small boats, one with eight Tunisians aboard and the other carrying 14, in the waters just off the island. In all, 66 migrants were taken to the island's hotspot. 

Meanwhile, in the Agrigento area of Sicily, investigators are still looking for people who were aboard a small vessel that was left on Giallonardo beach in the town of Realmonte. Authorities found clear signs of a migrant disembarkation, including abandoned wet clothing. Carabinieri and police are searching the areas around Porto Empedocle in the southeast and inland slightly north around Siculiana. 

Small vessel towed by fishing boat 

In recent days, a group of migrants arrived on Lampedusa aboard a small vessel that was towed by a Tunisian fishing boat. Italian finance police arrested the fishing boat's crew of six Tunisians, charging them with facilitating clandestine immigration. The 14 migrants aboard were charged with illegal entry. On August 29, during an air reconnaissance by the European border agency Frontex, the small boat being pulled by the Tunisian fishing boat was spotted more than 80 miles south of Lampedusa. 

Later that night, when the small boat had been unhooked from the fishing boat and was just 24 miles off the coast of Lampedusa, authorities from Palermo's finance police, in contact with the Agrigento prosecutor's office, intercepted the vessel with the migrants and blocked the fishing boat.

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