At least four migrants died and another five were injured when a fire broke out on a migrant boat close to the southern coast of Italy on Sunday, police and health officials said. Meanwhile, hundreds of migrants arrived on Lampedusa over the weekend.
Five people were taken to hospitals after a boat carrying 20 migrants caught fire near the Calabrian coast of Italy on Sunday. Health authorities in the port city of Crotone said that two migrants were in serious condition.
News agencies initially reported that three migrants, two men and a woman, had died. Later reports by news agency dpa corrected the number of fatalities to four.
Two finance police officers suffered injuries when they attempted to steer the burning boat to safety, police commander Emilio Fiora was quoted as saying by news agency AdnKronos.
Coast guard and customs police vessels on Sunday were searching for one migrant who was missing, the Crotone prefect's office told The Associated Press (AP).
According to police commander Fiora, finance police had been towing the migrant boat towards the coast when the accident occurred. The ship’s engine caught fire and there was an explosion; the cause of the fire is under investigation. AP reports that bathers on a beach near Isola di Capo Rizzuto, on the Ionian Sea, watched a column of thick smoke rise from the boat.
According to survivors, the sailboat carried migrants from Sri Lanka, Egypt, Somalia and Pakistan. Ten of the rescued migrants were minors, the prefect's office said. 12 migrants were reportedly taken to a reception center in Crotone.
Uptick in arrivals puts strain on Italian authorities
Data by the Italian interior ministry shows that 16,914 migrants have arrived in Italy irregularly via sea between January 1 and August 20 of this year. That’s a four-fold increase compared to the same period last year, dpa reports.
Rome officially closed its ports to migrants with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, saying it could not accommodate them due to safety and health concerns. However, arrivals have continued. In the past, most migrants set off in unseaworthy boats from Libya. But this year, most boats departed from Tunisia.The increase in arrivals is particularly evident on the island of Lampedusa, which is located closer to the Tunisian coast than to the southern shores of Italy.
Around 370 migrants arrived on Lampedusa on a rickety fishing boat on Saturday night, among them 13 women and 33 children. The total number of passengers initially had been reported as 450, but was later corrected by Italian authorities.
Another 500 migrants arrived on Lampedusa on various small baots between Friday and Saturday, AFP reports, and on Saturday, 49 vulnerable migrants were evacuated from the overcrowded migrant rescue ship Louise Michel and taken to Lampedusa by the Italian coast guard.Severe overcrowding in Lampedusa centers
The reception center on Lampedusa is at more than ten times its capacity, currently hosting around 1,200 migrants . "Lampedusa can no longer cope with this situation. Either the government takes immediate decisions or the whole island will go on strike," Lampedusa Mayor Toto Martello told ANSA.
Local residents protested Saturday, with some crying "Enough!", and storekeepers shuttered their shops for a day. Martello said the strike was aimed "against a government which doesn't have a strategy" to deal with migrants.
In response, the Italian interior ministry on Sunday announced it was sending a coast guard vessel to take 200 migrants off of Lampedusa, and that other military vessels would transfer 128 migrants who had tested negative for COVID-19
to Sicily. In addition, three chartered ferries are set to arrive by midweek to host hundreds of other migrants from Lampedusa for the mandatory quarantine period.
With AP, AFP, dpa, ANSA