‘The sea is not friendly’

Up to 245 mi­grants miss­ing af­ter 2 Mediter­ranean ship­wrecks

Cape Breton Post - - World - BY JAMEY KEATEN, FRANCES D’EMILIO

Two wrecks of migrant ships in the Mediter­ranean have claimed as many as 245 lives, in­clud­ing those of at least five chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to sur­vivor ac­counts given to UN agen­cies and au­thor­i­ties in Si­cily, where dozens of res­cued mi­grants were taken.

Sur­vivors of one wreck, some of them hos­pi­tal­ized in Poz­za­llo, Si­cily, where they were be­ing treated for hy­pother­mia and ex­haus­tion, told au­thor­i­ties who in­ter­viewed them that their traf­fick­ers had crammed some 130-140 peo­ple, ap­par­ently all from cen­tral African coun­tries, into a mo­tor­ized rub­ber dinghy de­signed to hold at most 20 peo­ple.

The dinghy started de­flat­ing on one end, the pas­sen­gers quickly shifted their po­si­tions in the boat, and the craft tipped over, au­thor­i­ties said, based on nu­mer­ous sur­vivors’ de­scrip­tions.

The of­fi­cials spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity since the ship­wreck is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated.

The dinghy wasn’t equipped with any dis­tress sig­nalling equip­ment. The 52 sur­vivors clung for hours to the wreck­age of the dinghy un­til they were spot­ted by a pa­trol plane and res­cued by a Dan­ish cargo ship, which was dis­patched to their aid by the Italian Coast Guard.

One sur­vivor was a Nige­rian woman, whose 5-month-old baby died. The in­fant’s corpse was one of the few bod­ies so far

re­cov­ered, au­thor­i­ties said.

“I lost my baby, she drowned, but God didn’t al­low me to die,” the woman, who asked to be iden­ti­fied only by her ini­tials, S.J., told The As­so­ci­ated Press in an in­ter­view out­side the migrant pro­cess­ing cen­tre in Poz­za­llo.

The 22-year-old, from Benin City, in Nige­ria, re­flected on her jour­ney that be­gin in March 2016 in her home­land and of­fered these words for other Nige­ri­ans.

“I want to tell my fel­low peo­ple ... to not come, it’s not easy to come here ... the sea is not friendly, many things

hap­pen.”

Even at the mo­ment that the cargo ship was about to pluck the sur­vivors to safety, the woman re­called, some just couldn’t hold on any longer. “Even as they were res­cued, one per­son died, a baby died.”

In the end, she said, 82 peo­ple per­ished and 52 sur­vived.

Po­lice in Si­cily said in a state­ment that many of the sur­vivors re­counted that among those who drowned was one of the smug­glers who had been steer­ing the boat.

“They couldn’t even re­mem­ber who saved them. They were com­pletely shocked and

trau­ma­tized,” said Car­lotta Sami, Rome-based spokes­woman for the U.N. refugee agency.

Mean­while, at its Geneva head­quar­ters, the refugee agency said that one of its part­ner agen­cies, the In­ter­na­tional Med­i­cal Corps, re­ported a ship­wreck on Sun­day off the Libyan coast in which 163 peo­ple are miss­ing and feared dead. The UN agency said one woman and six men were res­cued by the Libyan Coast Guard.

That boat was in­ter­cepted by the Libyan coast guard, said the UNHRC’s Sami, who had no other de­tails.

AP PHOTO

A Nige­rian woman, who asked to be iden­ti­fied only by her ini­tials, S. J. speaks with The As­so­ci­ated Press in an in­ter­view out­side the migrant pro­cess­ing cen­tre in Poz­za­llo, South­ern Italy. S. J., whose 5-month-old baby died when the dinghy they were aboard de­flated and tipped over, is one of the sur­vivors of two wrecks of migrant ships in the Mediter­ranean have claimed as many as 245 lives last week.

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