Coffins of the dead migrants are lined up inside the hall of the "Casa della Fratenita" (House of Fraternity) of Lampedusa on October 8, 2019 | Photo: ANSA/Ciro Fusco via AP
Coffins of the dead migrants are lined up inside the hall of the "Casa della Fratenita" (House of Fraternity) of Lampedusa on October 8, 2019 | Photo: ANSA/Ciro Fusco via AP

Some of the women who died in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean on Sunday night were pregnant, according to Italian authorities. More than 50 migrants were on board the boat that capsized off the coast of Lampedusa. At least 17 people remain missing.

Thirteen bodies were recovered by the Italian coastguard and military police – all women. As of Tuesday morning, at least 17 were still missing after a migrant boat capsized Sunday night. They included more women, some of them also pregnant, and at least two children. As the search continued, authorities said bad weather conditions and two-meter high waves made it unlikely that more bodies would be found.

Among the missing are migrants from Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Guinea and four Tunisians, including a 17-year-old boy, the UN migration agency said. None of the migrants had a life jacket.

Bodies of the Lampedusa shipwreck victims are brought to the dock October 7 2019  Photo Mauro BuccarelloReutersLa Repubblica reported that only four of the 13 women rescued could be identified. Family members had to walk past the rows of open coffins with bodies still wrapped in green and black plastic.

Only survivors who had lost a family member were brought into the mortuary room to see the dead bodies, swollen and deformed. Many preferred to identify their relatives from police photographs.

The youngest among the dead was a 12-year-old girl. She had been travelling with her mother, a cousin and an aunt, who identified her body.

I watched a newborn baby drown. I held her, then … I had to let her go.
_ Testimony of a shipwreck survivor, Wissem, from Tunisia

One of the survivors, a young Tunisian named Wissem, said he had seen a baby drown after the boat overturned. "He saw the body falling and grabbed it to try to pull it back up," Italian investigators said. "Then a migrant who was trying to get back up grabbed him by the ankles. To free himself, Wissem had to take off his belt and trousers and was also forced to let the baby go," La Repubblica reports.

On Tuesday morning, the victims were blessed by Cardinal Montenegro of Agrigento before their coffins were loaded onto a military aircraft.

Investigators are still trying to reconstruct the details of the migrants’ voyage, which they began in Libya. They said the migrants had made a stop in the Tunisian city of Sfax before heading north towards Lampedusa. 

"The boat was in no condition to make the crossing," said Italian magistrate Salvatore Vella, who is investigating the disaster. "It is strange they put to sea in such bad weather."

According to some witness accounts, the smuggler, a Tunisian, was among those who died in the incident.

Map showing Lampedusa island  Source DW‘Enough massacres in the sea’

Vella praised Italian authorities involved in the rescue. "Most of the survivors ... are only alive thanks to the courage of the men of the coastguard and the police," he said.

But a prominent Italian journalist, Roberto Saviano, criticized the fact that non-government organizations have been obstructed or prevented from carrying out search and rescue missions. He posted on social media that more people were dying in the Mediterranean "precisely because they have banned NGOs."

Meanwhile the mayor of Lampedusa, Toto Martello, called for an end to “massacres in the sea."

"We cannot continue to watch bodies being unloaded of poor people who are following a dream to better their lives. Politicians must react," Martello said.

Migrants on a small dinghy in the Mediterranean  Photo Picture-allianceLSchmidSOS MediterraneeCentral Mediterranean crossing claims most lives

The latest tragedy off Lampedusa brings the total number of migrant deaths confirmed in the Mediterranean to 1,071 since the beginning of this year, according to the IOM. Most of those deaths occurred in the waters between North Africa and Italy.

The IOM’s Missing Migrants project reported this week that this route has claimed at least 15,750 lives since January 1, 2014.


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