LAMPEDUSA, Italy — Italian divers today recovered 32 more bodies of migrants who died when a fishing boat with some 500 people onboard sank within sight of the tiny island of Lampedusa.
Italy’s integration minister, Congolese-born Cecile Kyenge, watched as soldiers transferred body bags from boats and onto trucks to be brought to the makeshift morgue. There the survivors of the tragedy were bidding farewell to the other 111 deceased fellow travelers who were recovered from the sea on Thursday. Their coffins stood in three lines at the island’s airport, each with a single red rose save for four white caskets for children topped with a teddy bear.
The divers went back into the sea today to look for some of the 200 people still missing, following a two-day suspension caused by bad weather. The latest recovery brought to 143 the number of people confirmed dead.
Financial police Maj. Leonardo Ricci said that the search would continue “as long as the sea is calm and there is light.”
The migrants, mostly from Eritrea, were aboard the 20-meter (65-foot) fishing boat that sank early Thursday after passengers panicked by flames set to draw the attention bolted to one side of the boat, capsizing it. Hundreds were flung into the sea, many who could not swim, while many were trapped in the hull. Survivors told rescuers they were in the sea for three hours; many clung to empty water bottles to stay afloat and some were too weak to grab lifesavers thrown to them.
“We cannot deal with this tragedy alone, but together with Europe. We must give answers to those who flee, need protection, and come here for help,” Kyenge told reporters.
Earlier, Kyenge visited the survivors at a refugee center in Lampedusa. Most of the 155 survivors remain at an overcrowded center on the island, many sleeping in the open. Two have been transferred to hospitals in Sicily.
Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost point and just 70 miles (113 kilometers) from Tunisia, is a frequent destination for migrants trying to reach safe haven from misery and strife in Africa and the Middle East. Tens of thousands arrive there each year seeking refugee status in Europe.
Survivors of Thursday’s tragedy have told authorities that a boat with lights had circled them but did not communicate or offer assistance. A Dutch lawmaker has called for an investigation into reports that a boat did not help the stranded migrants. There is no evidence that people on that boat knew that the fishing vessel was in distress.