(CUTRO, Italy) — The death toll climbed to 62 on Monday after a human smuggling boat packed with migrants slammed into the rocks off the coast of southern Italy on Sunday and “disintegrated” just feet from the shoreline, officials said.
Migrants reportedly from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan — countries ravaged recently by poverty, natural disasters, conflicts and civil unrest — were crammed aboard the 66-foot-long wooden boat that originated from Turkey and crashed into a rocky shore of eastern Calabria, which forms the tip of Italy’s boot shape, according to the Italian Coast Guard.
At least 120 migrants were aboard the vessel, according to the coast guard. Citing rescue workers, Agence France-Presse put the number at more than 200.
Roberto Occhiuto, the regional governor of the Calabria region, told reporters Monday he hopes the death toll does not reach 100.
At least 81 people were rescued, according to the coast guard.
At least 20 migrants were hospitalized, one in need of intensive care, said Manuela Curra, a provincial government official. One survivor was taken into custody for questioning after migrants identified him to authorities as one of the human traffickers, RAI state television reported.
Two more alleged smugglers were found alive and arrested, authorities said.
Antonio Ceraso, the mayor of the seaside resort city of Cutro, told Italian news media outlets that children, including a baby, are among the dead.
Bodies, covered in cloth, were being brought to a local sports stadium in the nearby Crotone that has been turned into a temporary morgue.
A priest was on hand to administer last rites over some some of the dead as bodies washed up on the beach.
Ceraso said the boat carrying the migrants hit rough seas and the rickety vessel “disintegrated” when it hit the rocks. He said wreckage is strewn across 1,000 feet of coastline. Describing what he saw at the scene of the crash, he said it was a “gruesome sight that stays with you for the rest of your life.”
The search for survivors is ongoing with coast guard crews combing the choppy waters in boats and with aircraft and local firefighters searching on jet skis.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis prayed for the survivors and the loved ones of those killed during his Sunday address in St. Peter’s Square.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose right-wing administration has taken a hard line on migration since her election in October, issued a statement expressing “deep sorrow for the many human lives torn away by human traffickers.”
Italy is one of the main landing points for migrants being smuggled across the central Mediterranean, mostly from North Africa and recently from Turkey. At least 20,333 migrants have been killed or have gone missing while attempting the crossing, which experts describe as one of the most dangerous in the world since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project.
“It is a huge tragedy which shows the absolute need to act firmly against irregular migration channels,” Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said in a statement, adding that Sunday’s tragedy highlights the urgency of cracking down on human smuggling sea crossings.
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