ROME: Sixty people, including 28 Pakistanis, died when a wooden sailing boat carrying migrants from several countries crashed against the rocks off southern Italian coast early on Sunday, authorities said.
The vessel had set sail from Izmir in western Turkey three or four days ago, Manuela Curra, the provincial government official in Italy’s southern Calabria region, said, adding that it had been carrying people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Iran.
“According to survivors, 140 to 150 people were on board,” Curra told Reuters by telephone. She added that 81 survivors – most of them from Afghanistan – had come ashore, including 22 who were now in the hospital.
The survivors were mostly from Afghanistan, as well as a few from Pakistan and a couple from Somalia, Curra said. One survivor was arrested on migrant trafficking charges, the Guardia di Finanza customs police said.
Ignazio Mangione, the Italian Red Cross official, told SkyTG24 that very few of the children believed to have been on the boat survived. La Stampa report said that among the dead were twins of a few years and a baby of a few months.
Cutro Mayor Antonio Ceraso told the SkyTG24 news channel that he had seen “a spectacle that you would never want to see in your life … a gruesome sight … that stays with you for all your life”.
The Pakistanis on board the boat were stated to be from Gujarat, Khariana and Mandi Bahauddin. The Foreign Office in Islamabad said that it was keeping a close watch on the reports regarding the possible presence of Pakistanis on the wrecked ship.
“We are closely following the reports about possible presence of Pakistanis in the vessel that has capsized off the coast of Italy. The Embassy of Pakistan in Rome is in the process of ascertaining facts from the Italian authorities,” it said in a tweet.
Video footage showed timber from the wreckage had been smashed into pieces, washing up on the beach, along with parts of the hull. Survivors were seen huddled under blankets, attended to by Red Cross workers.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed “deep sorrow” over the deaths, expressing her determination that the movement of illegal immigrants by sea would be stopped in order to prevent such tragedies in the future.
Meloni accused charities of encouraging migrants to make the dangerous sea journey to Italy, acting as so-called “pull factors”.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella said, “Many of these migrants came from Afghanistan and Iran, fleeing conditions of great hardship.”
Pope Francis, who often defends the rights of migrants, said he prayed for the dead, the missing and those who survived.
European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen said she was “deeply saddened” by the incident, adding that the “loss of life of innocent migrants was a tragedy”. She stressed the need for progress on reforming EU asylum rules.