Shipwreck off Italy: stadium filled with crates of migrants

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ROME – Cries and other expressions of grief echoed through a sports complex in southern Italy as a public viewing began Wednesday of the closed coffins holding the bodies of dozens of migrants who died in a shipwreck.

Meanwhile, the air and sea search to find any of those believed to be still missing continued for a fourth day. Italian state TV and the LaPresse news agency said the body of a child was the last of three bodies recovered, raising the confirmed death toll to 67.

Coming up afterwards are conflicting or unsynchronized accounts by authorities of what was known about the ship in the last hours of its journey before the wreck.

The migrant’s wooden boat, full of passengers who had paid smugglers for the voyage from Turkey, broke apart in rough water just off a beach in Calabria before dawn on Sunday.

Eighty people survived the wreck. According to surviving accounts, the ship had held 170 or more passengers when it left the Turkish port of Izmir a few days earlier.

The coffins – brown ones for adults and white ones for children – were arranged in neat rows on the wooden floor of the sports facility in the city of Crotone. On top of each coffin was a bouquet of flowers. Some people placed stuffed animals, another a toy truck, on children’s coffins.

Less than half of the coffins were named – the others were marked with numbers indicating the order in which rescuers found the bodies, pending final official identification.

Among the nameless chests was the smallest one. He held the remains of a child younger than a year, Italian news agency ANSA reported.

The survivors of Sunday’s wreck and the relatives of the dead mourned as they sat down to care for their loved ones’ coffins.

According to family accounts, some passengers had called family in Europe and reported with excitement that they could see the Italian mainland – about an hour before the ship smashed against a reef or a sandbank in the Ionian Sea.

When the relatives heard about the shipwreck, many from Germany, northern Italy and other European places went down to Cutro, the seaside town where many of the bodies washed up and some of those who came alive landing.

While many smugglers launch boats full of migrants from the shores of Libya and Tunisia across the central Mediterranean to southern Italy or the Italian islands, others use the route of start in Turkey that crosses the eastern side of the Mediterranean and aims to reach Calabria in a “toe” of. the peninsula, Puglia, the “heel” of the mainland, or eastern Sicily.

Looking at the coffins with the victims’ families were the mayors of nearby Italian towns, the local bishop and imam, and the townspeople.

The Crotone prosecutor is investigating the dynamics of the tragedy, including the involvement of suspected smuggler supporters among the survivors.

Late on Tuesday, the Italian Coast Guard issued a statement with its first account of the hours leading up to the shipwreck in an apparent attempt to defend the Italian authorities’ handling of the case.

The statement said that on Saturday night a surveillance plane operated by Frontex, Europe’s border and coast guard agency, spotted a boat in the Ionian Sea that appeared to be sailing “regularly” and appeared “a good dynamic situation” with only one person to be seen. on deck.

Italy’s interior minister has told lawmakers that the boat was about 40 nautical miles (46 miles or 75 kilometers) off the Italian coast at the time, and has insisted that there was no fallout in how the Italian authorities handled the case.

An Italian border police boat already at sea aimed to stop the boat, the statement said. On Sunday, in the first hours after the shipwreck, Italian authorities had said that two border police boats had been dispatched but could not reach the migrant vessel due to bad sea conditions.

The coast guards said that at 4:30 am on Sunday, they received a phone call from people ashore that a boat was in danger on the coast. The Carabinieri police informed the coast guard that the vessel had broken up.

“This is the first information about an emergency,” a coast guard statement said.

But what has not been explained is why coastguard boats – larger and better equipped to deal with rescues in rough waters – were not dispatched.

Italy’s new opposition, leader of the Democratic Party Elly Schlein, was among lawmakers at a hearing in Parliament on Wednesday asking the right-wing Italian government to explain why they were not deported. She wants the interior minister to resign.

Also raising questions about the Italian coastguard’s account were details provided by Frontex about how it saw the migrant vessel. Although only one person was visible on the deck, the Frontex thermal camera showed that there were more people below.

The group says it shared the information and images with Italian authorities and that it was theirs, not Frontex’s, which are classified as search and rescue.

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