[VIDEO] Manuela Mesco: How Migrants’ Ordeal Turned Into Tragedy at Sea

Migrant Bodies In Mediterranean Tragedy Arrive in Malta

An Italian coast guard ship brought the bodies of 24 victims of what could be the Mediterranean’s deadliest migrant tragedy to Malta on Monday, according to the Maltese army. Mark Kelly reports.

Overloaded and listing boat collided with rescue vessel; captain and crewman detained

CATANIA, Italy — Manuela Mesco reports: Last week, people smugglers near Tripoli loaded almost 900 Africans and Middle Easterners onto a rickety, wooden fishing boat, turning away as many as 200 others who had hoped to board and make the passage to Italy. The migrants had endured weeks or months of deprivation, with some detained and beaten for months by the smugglers.

Tunisian skipper Mohammed Ali Malek, left, seen Monday on board an Italian Coast Guard ship at the port of Catania, was detained on suspicion of multiple counts of murder. Photo: Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

Tunisian skipper Mohammed Ali Malek, left, seen Monday on board an Italian Coast Guard ship at the port of Catania, was detained on suspicion of multiple counts of murder. Photo: Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

“We had to literally slalom among the corpses. They were everywhere.”

— Enrico Vitiello, a 22-year-old medical assistant who was aboard one of the rescue vessels

Their ordeal became a tragedy as the ship sank on the weekend, leaving an estimated 850 people dead in what now appears to be the gravest single episode in the mass exodus of migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe.

“Only 28 people—all male—were pulled from the water alive, along with 24 bodies. One young man managed to save himself because he had learned how to swim not long before departing for his journey.”

The 66-foot boat was dangerously overloaded, with many on board—especially women and children—squeezing into the lower decks for the journey. Mohammed Ali Malek, a 27-year-old Tunisian, took the helm and headed for Italy.

The migrant boat’s captain, Mohammed Ali Malek, left, and Mahmud Bikhit, two of the survivors of the boat that overturned off the coast of Libya, are being detained by Italian police. Photo: Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press

The migrant boat’s captain, Mohammed Ali Malek, left, and Mahmud Bikhit, two of the survivors of the boat that overturned off the coast of Libya, are being detained by Italian police. Photo: Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press

On Saturday, about 60 miles from the Libyan coast, the boat issued a distress call—possibly in a true emergency, possibly using a common practice for drawing rescue vessels to take migrants to Italy. Officials at WO-AW189_MIGRAN_16U_20150419181205the Italian Coast Guard command center in Rome, consulting a giant screen that tracks the location of all private and official vessels in the area, immediately ordered the King Jacob, a Portuguese merchant ship, to the scene.

 “We found a man waving and screaming. Then we found another one in the water. We didn’t know if he was dead or alive. When we pulled him onto the boat, he just started to cry.”

— Giuseppe Pomilla, a doctor on the scene

As it approached, according to Coast Guard officials, the migrants rushed to one side of their decrepit boat, making it list dangerously. Around the same time, the two vessels collided and the migrants’ boat quickly tipped over, according to accounts from survivors and Italian prosecutors. It sank so quickly that hundreds of people crammed into the lower decks had no chance to escape.

The Italians quickly dispatched 17 other vessels, including Coast Guard cutters, Maltese Navy ships and fishing boats, to the scene to search for survivors. They found wooden fragments, floating life jackets, an oil slick, and many bodies.

“The deaths, if confirmed, further establish the Mediterranean as the most lethal migrant route in the world. “

“We had to literally slalom among the corpses,” Enrico Vitiello, a 22-year-old medical assistant who was aboard one of the rescue vessels, said on Tuesday. “They were everywhere.”

[read the full text here, at WSJ]

Giuseppe Pomilla, a doctor, reached the scene around 1 a.m. on Sunday to hear “desperate screaming” from people in the water. “We found a man waving and screaming,” he said. “Then we found another one in the water. We didn’t know if he was dead or alive. When we pulled him onto the boat, he just started to cry.” The survivors had spent hours in the water before being rescued, he added.

“An estimated 3,200 died in the crossing last year, and this year’s toll has already reached 1,600.”

Only 28 people—all male—were pulled from the water alive, along with 24 bodies. One young man managed to save himself because he had learned how to swim not long before departing for his journey, according to statements he gave to workers at the International Organization for Migration. Four of the survivors were minors, two from Somalia and two from Bengal, said aid group Save the Children. Italian prosecutors estimate that about 850 others drowned, about half of them Eritreans, the rest Syrians, Somalis and others.

The deaths, if confirmed, further establish the Mediterranean as the most lethal migrant route in the world. Since the start of 2011, nearly 300,000 people have made the sea crossing to Italy, according to Frontex, the EU border control agency. An estimated 3,200 died in the crossing last year, and this year’s toll has already reached 1,600.

The account of the tragedy, drawn from statements released to aid organizations and Italian prosecutors, paints a troubling picture of a trend that is likely to worsen in coming months, as better weather encourages more migrants to attempt the journey…(read more)

WSJ



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