Italian divers searched on Friday for bodies trapped in the wreck of a boat packed with African migrants that sank off Sicily, killing an estimated 300 people in one of the worst disasters in Europe’s decadeslong immigration crisis, according to a Reuters report.
Rescue teams have so far recovered 111 bodies and expect to find more than a hundred others in the submerged wreck, which is sunk in around 40 meters of water less than 0.6 miles from the shore of the southern island of Lampedusa.
After 155 survivors were pulled from the water on Thursday, choppy seas were expected to make the recovery work more difficult and there was no realistic hope of finding any more of the estimated 500 passengers on board the vessel still alive, the report said.
An Act of Desperation
The rickety fishing boat was the third of the night to head toward the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, overloaded with African migrants seeking a better life in Europe. Most never reached shore, according to the Associated Press.
After the boat started taking on water, someone on board set a fire to get the attention of passing ships. The flames spread and panicked passengers surged to one side to avoid the fire. The vessel capsized, and hundreds of men, women and children who did not know how to swim were flung into the Mediterranean Sea.
From 450 to 500 people were believed to be aboard the boat, which set sail from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and capsized about a half-mile from Lampedusa. Health Commissioner Antonio Candela said only 159 were rescued.
The 66-foot boat was carrying migrants from Eritrea, Ghana and Somalia, Italian coast guard spokesman Marco Di Milla told the Associated Press.
It nearly reached its destination, getting as far as nearby Conigli Island before it began taking on water, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano told reporters.