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Italian coastguard searching for dozens of survivors of two shipwrecks in the Mediterranean

Rescue efforts began after “a ‘mayday’ from a French pleasure boat”, the coastguard said.

THE ITALIAN COASTGUARD is searching for between 50 and 60 missing people after two shipwrecks left 11 people dead roughly 220 km off the coast of Italy. 

The coastguard said it has been looking for “possible missing persons” since yesterday evening, “following the shipwreck of a sailing boat with migrants on board, presumably departing from Turkey”.

Rescue efforts began after “a ‘mayday’ from a French pleasure boat”, the coastguard said.

The French vessel alerted authorities to “the presence of the half-sunken boat”, before taking 12 survivors on board.

They were then transferred to an Italian coastguard boat, which took them to the town of Roccella Ionica in southern Italy.

One of the surviving 12 died after disembarking.

“Tragically, one woman passed away shortly after disembarking due to severe medical conditions. The remaining survivors are receiving medical care at local facilities,” medical NGO Doctors Without Borders said in a post on X. 

Around 50 were missing following the shipwreck, according to the ANSA news agency, while Radio Radicale put the number at 64, adding that those lost at sea were from Afghanistan and Iran.

MSF said it was providing “psychological assistance to all survivors”.

Flooded lower deck 

Further south, rescuers coming to the aid of migrants on a wooden boat off the Italian island of Lampedusa found 10 bodies below deck, the German aid group ResQship posted on X Monday.

The crew of ResQship’s vessel, the Nadir, managed to pull 51 people to safety.

“The rescue came too late for 10 people,” the German charity said.

“A total of 61 people were on the wooden boat, which was full of water. Our crew was able to evacuate 51 people, two of whom were unconscious – they had to be cut free with an axe,” it said.

“The 10 dead are in the flooded lower deck of the boat,” it added.

The survivors hailed from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt and Syria, according to ANSA, which said they had paid around $3,500 to travel in the eight-metre long boat.

More than 3,150 migrants died or disappeared in the Mediterranean last year, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration.

The Central Mediterranean is the deadliest known migration route in the world, representing 80% of the deaths and disappearances in the Mediterranean sea.

It is widely used by migrants fleeing conflict, persecution or poverty, who set off from Tunisia or Libya by boat in bids to enter the European Union, often via Italy.

Tough choice 

The EU recently adopted a vast reform toughening immigration control at its borders. The Migration Pact has been condemned by a wide range of humanitarian organisations, who recently told The Journal that it will damage the EU’s reputation as a defender of human rights.

Since coming to power in 2022, far-right Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has vowed to dramatically slash the number of people crossing by boat from the coast of North Africa.

The Italian government has brought in a slew of rules to hinder the activities of charity ships, including assigning them distant ports and prohibiting them from responding to more than one distress call per trip. 

Under a law adopted at the start of 2023, charity ships are obliged to travel “without delay” to port as soon as their first rescue is complete.

Ignoring distress calls at sea is a violation of international law. 

In recent months, the Italian coastguard has assigned increasingly distant ports to ships, sometimes in difficult weather conditions, to the detriment of vulnerable migrants’ physical and mental health.

Charity crews face a tough choice: comply with the Italian authorities by leaving boats adrift despite the risk of people drowning, or disobey and face having their ships impounded, which has happened to some. 

Arrivals by sea to Italy have dropped considerably since the start of the year, with some 23,725 people landing so far, compared to 53,902 in the same period in 2023, according to the interior ministry.

With reporting from AFP.

Need more clarity and context on how migration is being discussed in Ireland? Check out our new FactCheck Knowledge Bank for essential reads and guides to finding good information online.

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