At least seven migrants are reported to have died of hypothermia in a boat off the Italian island of Lampedusa. The overcrowded vessel was reportedly carrying about 280 people, mostly from Bangladesh and Egypt.
Italian authorities reported that three people were found dead on board a migrant boat which was intercepted about 24 nautical miles off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa early on Tuesday (January 25). Four more people died shortly before port authorities had brought the boat to Lampedusa.
The overcrowded vessel was carrying around 280 people, news agencies reported. The majority of those on board were from Bangladesh and Egypt. Those who died were reported to be from Bangladesh. They were found at night, when temperatures at sea are at their coldest, and are thought to have died of hypothermia or exposure.
'Once again a tragedy'
"Once again a tragedy, once again we shed tears for the innocent victims," Lampedusa’s mayor Salvatore (Totò) Martello told ANSA. "We will keep trying to help even in the face of so many difficulties, and notwithstanding the fact that it seems the Italian government and Europe have forgotten our island and the people who live here. But we can’t carry on for much longer like this," concluded Martello.
Italian state prosecutors in Agrigento, on the Sicilian mainland, have opened an inquiry into the deaths. They are hoping to identify the smugglers who put the migrants on board the ship.
The remaining migrants were reportedly taken to a hotspot at Contrada Ibriacola, which already accommodates 365 people. According to ANSA, that brings the numbers of those staying in the hotspot to 645, in a structure that is built to host 250.
Transfers to quarantine ship
At least 100 of the migrants, who have already been tested for COVID, were expected to be transferred onto a quarantine ship on Tuesday. A transfer of 418 migrants from the hotspot to the ship took place on Sunday.
The Italian news agency AGI reported that the organization Alarm Phone, which monitors migrants in the Mediterranean, had alerted the authorities the night before to the boat. At about 8 p.m. on Monday evening Alarm Phone located the boat in distress in the Maltese Search and Rescue (SAR) zone, AGI wrote.
'Deaths could have been prevented'
Alarm Phone had urged the authorities via Twitter not to delay rescue. The hotline said "communication is difficult due to strong winds, but (the migrants) were urgently calling for help until we lost contact two hours ago."
Later Alarm Phone tweeted that Italian authorities had finally come to the aid of the boat "six hours" after they were first alerted to the disaster unfolding. According to Alarm Phone, the authorities also arrived after the Aita Mari rescue ship. The deaths of those on board "could have been prevented!," Alarm Phone wrote.
More than 67,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to Italy in 2021. So far in January, a greater number of migrants have arrived in Italy than in the same period last year. Italian government figures on January 24 registered almost 1,800 arrivals, bringing the total so far this year to around 2,000, including the current boat.