Coffins on the dock after the Lampedusa shipwreck | Photo: ANSA
Coffins on the dock after the Lampedusa shipwreck | Photo: ANSA

Some of the survivors of the shipwreck near the Italian island of Lampedusa told us their stories. One of them tried to save a little girl, but couldn't. He had to watch her drown.

A total of 22 migrants were rescued from the shipwreck that took place on the night between Sunday (October 6) and Monday (October 7). Their boat had capsized six miles off Lampedusa. At least 30 people likely died, though only 13 bodies have been recovered so far. 

One of the survivors -- a man named Wissem -- said that after the boat capsized, he had to make a horrible decision: Whether to die while holding on to an eight-month-old baby girl he had been trying to save -- or to let her go and save himself. 

Wissem said he boarded the boat on the night between Saturday and Sunday in Sfax to flee Tunisia, 24 hours before the shipwreck. According to testimony provided by survivors, there were 13 Tunisians and 38 sub-Saharan migrants from the Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Guinea with him. The majority of Tunisian passengers came from the same area and knew how to swim while the others didn't. 

Wissem told police officers in Agrigento, Sicily, that he fell into the water. When he opened his eyes after going under water, he said, he "saw a little girl in front of me, she was drowning."  He said he didn't think twice: "I grabbed her and started to swim to try to stay afloat."

However, he said he felt "someone had grabbed my legs in order not to drown. But he was dragging me underwater." Wissem said he didn't have a choice: "To free myself I had to take off my pants and I was forced to let go of the little girl." 

Boat left Libya and stopped over in Sfax 

The little girl's body has not been found yet. Also missing are a two-year-old and two teens along with at least 13 others, according to testimonies provided to the police by survivors.

Local prosecutor Salvatore Vella said search operations will continue as well as an investigation to identify potential accomplices in Tunisia and Libya of the trafficker who is believed to have died in the shipwreck.

All survivors have said that the boat departed from Libya with the sub-Saharan migrants and then stopped over in Sfax, where the group of Tunisians got onboard. 

A cancer patient named Fakher was reportedly among the Tunisian group. "He [...] wanted to go to Europe to get treatment, something he couldn't do in Tunisia," said humanitarian operators. Fakher did not survive and his body has not been recovered so far. 

'The boat capsized and sank' 

Lorain and Nidal, a husband and wife, were also on the boat. She is 24 and pregnant. She says that she boarded the boat in Sfax ''because I want to change my life, it doesn't matter if I stay in Italy or go to another European country, the important thing was to leave."

Weather conditions appeared to be good at the time of departure, according to videos taken by some of the passengers. But later on, the sea grew rough and the boat ran out of gas.

Romeo, a 27-year-old from Cameroon said the boat "capsized and sank." He added: "It is thanks to Coast Guards that we are here, we would have drowned without them." 

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