Lampedusa boat disaster: Divers recover more bodies

About 200 people are still missing after the accident off Lampedusa island

Divers in Italy have been recovering more bodies from the boat of African migrants that sank on Thursday.

Eighty-three bodies were brought out on Sunday, bringing the official death toll to 194. About 200 people are still missing and 155 have survived the accident off Lampedusa island.

The authorities have denied allegations that they were slow to mount a rescue.

France has called for an urgent EU meeting after Italy requested help to deal with the influx of migrants.

The BBC's Julian Miglierini says the migrants had almost made it to the coast, sinking just 800m away

Tens of thousands of migrants attempt the perilous crossing from North Africa to Sicily and other Italian islands each year, and accidents are common - but this week's shipwreck was among the deadliest on record.

Start Quote

I lost my cousin, who was on the boat with me, I also lost many friends”

End Quote Futsum Mesfa Eritrean migrant
'Clandestine immigration'

Divers resumed their search on Sunday morning after a 48-hour delay due to bad weather.

Many bodies are believed to be trapped in the wreck located in deep water, about 1km (half a mile) off Lampedusa.

The survivors are to be placed under investigation for "clandestine immigration", as provided for by a controversial immigration law pushed through by right-wing parties in 2002.

The offence carries a 5,000-euro (£4,230; $6,780) fine.

Italy has said it will amend its immigration laws. Members of parliament have complained that some of its provisions discourage people from helping migrants in distress.

The fisherman who arrived first at the site of the accident, Vito Fiorino, has accused the coastguard of wasting time by filming footage of rescue efforts.

"They refused to take on board some people we'd already saved because they said protocol forbade it," he was quoted as saying by Ansa news agency.

A team of divers with coast guards  members leaves the Lampedusa harbour heading for the sunken boat on 6 October. Bad weather hampered the divers' work for two days
Coast guards prepare to recover bodies, 6 October Italy's coastguard has been accused of being initially slow to respond to the tragedy
Rescued migrants in image released by Italian coastguard on 3 October 2013 This image released by the Italian coastguard shows some of the migrants who were rescued
Wreckage of migrant boat on the sea bed in video released by the Italian authorities on 4 October 2013 But their boat lies at the bottom of the sea, along with many bodies of those who did not survive

A report in local newspaper La Sicilia said two boats belonging to Italy's Financial Guard, which carries out a range of police and rescue duties, had remained in port.

The coastguard denied that there was any delay in its rescue effort.

"After we received the alarm by radio at 07:00, we immediately intervened with our boats, arriving at the site of the shipwreck at 07:20," it said in a statement.

Judicial authorities said they had no evidence of delays. And two of the migrants have told the BBC that boats did rescue them, but it took a while.

"After swimming for a long time, probably around three hours, boats started to arrive to rescue us. Rescue boats, small boats, all the boats in the area came to save us, they dragged us out of the water," Futsum Mesfa, 20, from Eritrea said.

"I lost my cousin, who was on the boat with me, I also lost many friends," he added.

Key migrant routes to southern Europe
Map of migrants routes

Why people flee Eritrea and Somalia

Eritrea:

  • UN says 3,000 people try to flee each month
  • Human rights groups say the country is becoming a giant jail, with some 10,000 political prisoners
  • Young people conscripted to army - sometimes until age of 40

Somalia:

  • Much of the country controlled by al-Shabab Islamist militants
  • Country ravaged by two decades of war

The head of a fishermen's association, Toto Martello, denied in turn reports that three fishermen had sailed straight past the scene of the accident.

The 20m (66ft) boat carrying more than 500 people - mostly from Eritrea and Somalia - was approaching Lampedusa early on Thursday when it began taking on water after its motor stopped working.

Mr Mesfa told the BBC that the skipper set fire to a piece of material to try to attract the attention of passing ships, only to have the fire spread to the rest of the vessel.

The boat - which set sail from the Libyan port of Misrata - is thought to have capsized when everyone moved to one side.

Map

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