A boat, bound across the Mediterranean from Misrata, Libya to Europe with 500± illegal immigrants crammed on it, caught fire, capsized and sank on Thursday October 3, 2013. The wreck took place in less than 150′ of water about 600 yards off the Italian island of Lampedusa between Tunisia and Sicily.
The boat had around 500 people aboard, only 155 were saved, making a death toll of about 345. The recovered victims included 210 men, 83 women and 9 children, which leaves dozens still unaccounted for.
Divers told of finding a wall of bodies inside the ship. They were so intertwined it was difficult to separate them and pull them out. According to a United Nations spokesman, most of the passengers were from Eritrea and Somalia.
After the fire, which is was intentionally set as a signal for help when the engine failed, got out of control and spread — many passengers reportedly threw themselves into the sea to get away from the flames even though most couldn’t swim. The remainder grouped on one side away from the fire, putting the vessel off balance and causing it to capsize. It was quickly every man for himself, with only a half dozen of the 100± women aboard surviving. Some of the survivors later reported clinging for hours onto floating water bottles and even using the floating bodies of the dead for support.
The Italian government declared Friday, October 4, 2013, a day of national mourning over the shipwreck and Pope Francis said “Today is a day of tears.” The dead are to have a State funeral.
Such shipwrecks are nothing new, with over 20,000 lives lost in similar illegal crossings of the Mediterranean in the past 20 years. Its thought they will continue as long as dishonest boat captains are willing to take the migrants/refugees money (usually a thousand dollars per person) and smuggle them to Europe in overloaded, unsafe crafts. Just days earlier, the coast guard rescued 460 people from two boats off Lampadusa. In a separate incident the day of the sinking, a vessel carrying 200 African migrants encountered difficulties barely five miles off the coast of Sicily and just days earlier, over a dozen others drowned trying to reach Sicily.
Lampedusa (Sicilian: Lampidusa) is the largest island of the Italian Pelagie Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. It is the southernmost part of Italy. Tunisia, which is about 113 kilometres (70 miles) away, is the closest landfall to the islands. Sicily is farther at 176 kilometres (109 mi). Since the early 2000s, the island has become a primary European entry point for illegal migrants, mainly coming from Africa.
See CNN video & article: Italy mourns more Lampedusa shipwreck
See AP article: Fisherman: Migrants to weak to grab lifesaver
See CTV News article: Caskets lined up in Italian hanger
See AFP article on Yahoo: Survivors mourn the dead
See Reuters article on Huffington Post: Shipwreck highlights migrant’s plight
See article in The Hindu: Bad weather halts recovery efforts
See CNN update: Survivors recall ordeal
See AP update: Italian divers find wall of bodies