By: Chandrashekar Bhat
THE COFFINS of 65 victims of a devastating migrant shipwreck off Italy’s southern coast were laid out Tuesday (28) in a local sports hall, five of them small and white, containing the bodies of the youngest children that died.
Flower bouquets adorned each coffin in the building in Crotone, while a toy blue car had been laid on the smallest, ready for mourners to pay their respects.
Earlier, the coffins had been opened to allow the identification of the dead, with relatives having flown in from countries including Germany and Austria.
One woman let out a scream which shattered the silence of the sports hall.
A German-speaking man told reporters he was the nephew of an Afghan man who survived – but lost his wife and three children aged five, eight and 12 – after paying $30,000 (£24,837) for the family to cross. A 14-year-old child survived.
The toll from Sunday (26)’s shipwreck rose to 65 on Tuesday (28) after another body was found, local officials reported.
Fourteen children were among those confirmed to have died when their overcrowded boat shattered in a storm, the interior ministry said.
Another 79 survived, while several more are believed still to be missing.
It was one of the most tragic incidents in the Central Mediterranean, which tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers cross each year hoping to find a new life in Europe.
“We go to this beach in summer. All residents will remember this, that there were so many victims, especially these children and young people,” said Daniela Brugnana, 45, who came to pay homage to the victims.
Three men – two Pakistanis and a Turkish national – have been detained for alleged people smuggling over the incident, a police spokesman said.
Bodies, shoes and debris have been washing up along the shoreline for the past three days.
Divers are still searching for potentially up to 20 missing people, although it is not yet clear how many were on the boat.
Charities working with survivors believe there may have been up to 200 people had been on board, from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, also Somalia and Syria.
The overcrowded wooden boat was called Summer Love and it set off last Thursday (23) from Izmir in Turkey, survivors told Red Cross charity workers.
Many of those on board were seated below deck and had difficulty breathing, they reportedly said.
Survivors said they paid smugglers between €5,000 (£4,402) and €8,000 (£7,043), according to the Corriere della Sera daily.
The Afghan foreign ministry expressed its “great sadness” for those killed.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan prays for forgiveness for the martyrs and patience for the families and relatives of the victims, urging all citizens once again to avoid going to foreign countries through irregular migration,” it said.
Few metres from the coast
Amid questions about whether more could have be done to prevent the tragedy, both Italy’s coastguard and the EU border Frontex revealed they had tried to help.
Frontex said one of its planes had spotted a “heavily overcrowded boat” heading towards Italy late on Saturday (25), and had informed the Italian authorities.
“There were no signs of distress,” it said, adding that the plane monitored the ship until it had to go home to refuel.
It said Italy dispatched two patrol boats to intercept the vessel but they were forced by bad weather to return to port.
Italy’s coastguard, for its part, said Frontex had seen the boat “with only one person visible”, and a financial crimes police vessel had tried to intercept it.
At 4.30am on Sunday (0330 GMT), reports had come in suggesting the boat was in danger just “a few minutes from the coast”, and a rescue mission was launched.