By Guglielmo Mangiapane
LAMPEDUSA (Reuters) – Italy has recovered the bodies of a child and six other people from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, more than a week after a crowded migrant boat capsized off the coast of the island of Lampedusa.
Men from the Italian coastguard, dressed in white suits and wearing masks over their faces, carried the bodies on to the dock of the island’s small port in black bags on Thursday. Wooden coffins were laid on the port side.
On the day of the shipwreck, Oct. 7, the bodies of 13 women were recovered and the coastguard said 13 men and women had survived the sinking of the boat.
The boat, which appeared to have started its trip in Libya and stopped in neighbouring Tunisia, was carrying more than 50 people at the time of the disaster.
Most of the passengers came from Tunisia or sub-Saharan Africa. None was wearing a life-jacket.
The bodies were retrieved by a team of 29 scuba divers off the island at a depth of 60 metres “in a rather complex operation”, prosecutors said.
After the shipwreck, prosecutors in the southern city of Agrigento opened an investigation, with proceedings against persons unknown, authorities said on Thursday.
The migrants coming to Europe in recent years have mainly been fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Official statistics show more than 800 migrants have arrived in Italy over the past two weeks compared comparison with 1,007 for the whole of October last year. A further 176 disembarked on Wednesday after arriving in the charity ship Ocean Viking.
Dozens of migrants have also been killed trying to make the crossing in recent months.
Confirmed deaths on the three main Mediterranean Sea migratory routes in the first nine months of the year were 994, figures released by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) showed.
The number is the lowest recorded since 2014. It is not because of an improvement in safety conditions but is linked to the reduction in the number of people attempting to cross, the IOM said.
Interior ministers from five European Union countries, including Italy, said last month they had agreed on a new scheme to distribute migrants saved from the Mediterranean under a deal aimed at relieving the pressure on southern EU states.
Italy and neighbouring Malta have long complained that they have been left alone to deal with the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have crossed the Mediterranean in recent years looking for a better life in Europe.
(Additional reporting by Wladimiro Pantaleone in Palermo, writing by Giulia Segreti, Editing by Timothy Heritage)