At least 59 migrants, including 12 children, have drowned after their boat broke up off the southern coast of Italy’s mainland.
A ship carrying up to 150 migrants ran into trouble in rough seas at dawn on Sunday near the coastal town of Crotone, in Calabria, the Coast Guard said.
Manuela Curra, a provincial government official, told Reuters news agency that the migrant boat shipwrecked after departing from Izmir in eastern Turkey three or four days ago.
It had been carrying people from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia, with survivors claiming “140 to 150 people had been aboard”.
Fifty-eight migrants are confirmed to have died while 81 survivors had come ashore, including 22 who are now in hospital. Most of the survivors are said to have come from Afghanistan.
The Coast Guard said a patrol boat recovered two men in a state of hypothermia along with the lifeless body of a child.
Vessels from the coast guard, border police and firefighters were involved in rescue efforts.
Vigili del Fuoco, Italy’s institutional agency for fire and rescue service, reported that the boat of migrants ran aground off the seaside resort of Steccato di Cutro, in the province of Crotone.
Danilo Maida, a spokesman for the firefighters in the Calabria region, said firefighters are still looking for more survivors at sea, but conditions are harsh, which is making the search difficult.
The Coast Guard of Reggio said it is coordinating search and rescue activities at sea and has sent two patrol boats and a helicopter from the Catania Aircraft Base to look for survivors.
Speaking to Sky News, Rosario Maria Gianluca Valastro, the acting president of the Italian Red Cross, said the situation was “very, very bad”.
He said the Italian Red Cross had almost 30 volunteers supporting emergency services and the army by helping the survivors.
“What happened is a real disaster. And the people are really, really in a bad situation.”
He said the Italian army is doing research into how many migrants were on board, but he believes it could be around 200 people.
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Following the incident, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed her “deep sorrow” for the victims and pledged to stop irregular sea migration to prevent more tragedies.
“The Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expresses her deep sorrow for the many human lives cut short by human traffickers,” a statement from her office said.
“The government is committed to preventing (migrant) departures, and with them the unfolding of these tragedies, and will continue to do so, first of all by demanding maximum collaboration from (migrants’) countries of departure and of origin,” the statement added.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis said he was praying for everyone who got caught up in the migrant boat shipwreck.
“I heard with sorrow of the shipwreck off the Calabrian coast near Crotone. Already 40 dead have been recovered, many of them children,” he said in his weekly address to crowds in St Peter’s Square.
“I pray for every one of them, for the missing and for the other surviving migrants.”