Thursday 03/10/13 a small vessel carrying nearly 500 migrants from Africa sank just a kilometre off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. 150 passengers were rescued and 103 bodies had been recovered from the sea by Friday morning. It is feared that more than 200 other passengers were unaccounted for. According to rescue workers it was likely that there were some bodies trapped in the vessel which was about 130 feet below the surface. Most of the passengers were from Eritrea and Somalia.
According to survivors, the boat started taking in water after the engine failed. Some of the passengers decided to set fire to some sheets on deck in order to attract the attention of passing ships. The fire spread out of control causing panic amongst the passengers. They moved to the other end of the boat making it capsize
The Lampedusa coast guard confirmed that they had intercepted 2 other boats carrying migrants earlier that evening. Sources said that many boats carrying migrants landed on Italy's Meditarranean shores every day.
The Italian government declared a day of mourning for all those killed in this tragedy. As more bodies were brought out and laid by the dockside the mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini described the scene as one of 'continuous horror' , according to reports from reuters.
Southern ports in the Meditarranean are now seen as the gateway to the European Union for thousands of people fleeing persecution and insecurity and poor economic conditions in their home countries. Once landed the migrants will try to make their way to the richer cities of Northern Europe in countries like Germany, Austria, Scandinavia, France and the United Kingdom.
The EU has clamped down on immigration over recent years making it almost impossible for would be migrants to get visas and other necessary paperwork to travel in the normal way. In desperation the people are left to rely on traffickers, many of them criminal gangs who charge huge sums of money to smuggle them into Europe by sea in crowded and often unseaworthy boats. Over the years thouands have died trying to reach the shores.
It has been estimated by the UN Refugee Agency that nearly 8,400 refugees have entered Italy and Malta this year. That figure is nearly double the total for the first six months of 2012. The crisis in Syria has led to a huge increase in numbers. Pope Francis visited Lampedusa in July where he said a mass for the migrants. He also condemned the 'global indifference' to the plight of the refugees. Last night in an audience at the Vatican the Pope described this latest human tragedy as 'a disgrace.'