“It’s an awful sight,” said the mayor of a coastal city.
The death toll rose to 62 on Monday, officials said, after a people-smuggling boat full of migrants crashed on rocks off the coast of southern Italy on Sunday and “disintegrated” just feet from shore.
Migrants from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan — countries ravaged by poverty, natural disasters, conflict and civil unrest — are said to have been crammed onto a 66-foot wooden boat originating from Turkey that crashed into a rocky beach in eastern Calabria, whose tip forms the shape of an Italian boot, according to the Italian Coast Guard.
The coast guard said at least 120 migrants were on board the ship. Citing rescue workers, AFP put the number at more than 200.
Roberto Okoto, the regional governor of the Calabria region, told reporters on Monday that he hoped the death toll would not reach 100.
At least 81 people have been rescued, according to the Coast Guard.
Manuela Cora, a regional government official, said at least 20 migrants have been hospitalized, one of whom needs intensive care. State television RAI reported that a survivor was detained for questioning after migrants identified him to the authorities as a human trafficker.
Authorities said that other smugglers were found alive and arrested.
Antonio Serraso, mayor of the coastal city of Cutro, told Italian media that children, including an infant, were among the dead.
The bodies, covered in cloth, were taken to a local sports stadium in nearby Crotone, which has been converted into a makeshift morgue.
A priest was on hand to perform last rites on some of the dead as bodies washed ashore.
Ceraso said the boat carrying the migrants was hit by rough seas and the rickety ship “shattered” when it hit the rocks. He said the wreckage was strewn about 1,000 feet from the coast. Describing what he saw at the scene, he said it was “a horrific sight that will stay with you for the rest of your life.”
The search for survivors continues with Coast Guard crews combing choppy waters in boats and planes and local firefighters searching for jet skis.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis prayed for the survivors and loved ones of those killed during his Sunday address in St. Peter’s Square.
Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, whose right-wing administration has taken a hard line on immigration since her election in October, issued a statement expressing her “deep sorrow at the many human lives torn by people smugglers”.
Italy is one of the main landing points for migrants smuggled across the central Mediterranean, mostly from North Africa and more recently from Turkey. At least 20,333 migrants have been killed or gone missing trying to cross, which experts describe as one of the most dangerous in the world, since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project.
“It is a huge tragedy that shows the absolute need to act resolutely against irregular migration channels,” Italian Interior Minister Matteo Pentedosi said in a statement, adding that Sunday’s tragedy highlights the urgent need to crack down on people smuggling crossings across the sea.
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