Italian coastguards recovered the bodies of 13 women who died after a crowded migrant boat capsized in heavy weather as rescue boats approached it off the coast of Lampedusa, an island south of Sicily, local authorities said yesterday.
The coastguard said rescue vessels had picked up 22 survivors, but they feared many other people might have died in the accident – the latest in a long line of sea disasters to hit migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe.
One of the survivors said she had lost her sister and eight-month-old niece in the tragedy. The ship, which had set sail from Tunisia, had been carrying around 50 people, almost all from Tunisia and west African, the U.N. migration agency said.
Italian coastguards received an alert late on Sunday that a boat was in difficulty. Two rescue vessels found the ship, which was already listing, just after midnight about 6 nautical miles from the coast of Lampedusa.
“In order to proceed with the transfer operation, the naval units approached the small boat, but the adverse weather conditions and the sudden movement of migrants caused the vessel to overturn,” the coastguard said in a statement.
Coffins were lined up on the quay of the small port of Lampedusa as a coastguard ship entered harbor on Monday, bringing the bodies to shore. Italian magistrates have opened an investigation into the disaster, with a magistrate from Sicily flying to Lampedusa on Monday to lead the probe.