Syrian refugee gives birth on boat arriving in Sicily

A Syrian refugee gave birth at sea on her way to Italy as the number of arrivals fleeing the war-torn country this year rose to nearly 3,000 people, officials said.

Syrian refugee gives birth on boat arriving in Sicily
Thousands of asylum-seekers have landed in Sicily in recent weeks. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The woman was one of 355 refugees – most of them from Syria – on two boats intercepted by coast guard and navy vessels and escorted to Sicily on Wednesday.

"We found her with a piece of the umbilical cord still attached," Luca Sancilio, the local coast guard commander in Syracuse told news channel SkyTG24.

Sancilio initially said the woman had given birth to a little girl, although the hospital where they were taken later said the baby was in fact a boy.

The coast guard estimated the baby was about four days old and was born during the eight-day voyage.

Mother and son are well and resting, the hospital said.

A coast guard plane on Tuesday spotted the heavily overcrowded boat that the woman was travelling on.

The people on board included 48 children.

Mario de Rosa, captain of a navy patrol boat that came to the rescue, told SkyTG24 that the refugee boat suffered engine failure in stormy seas.

A second boat with 164 people on board was spotted by a fishing vessel some 15 nautical miles from the coast and was also taken to Syracuse.

Several of the refugees were suffering from dehydration, Italian media reported.

Another boat carrying 107 Syrian refugees landed in Sicily on Tuesday, getting stuck on rocks just off the shore.

Three Egyptian crew members from that boat have been arrested on charges of aiding illegal immigration.

Thousands of asylum-seekers have landed in Sicily in recent weeks, many of them coming from Egypt and Syria.

"There are now more Syrians than anyone else. This is a really dramatic exodus," Sancilio said.

The interior ministry said 2,872 Syrians have landed in Italy so far this year.

Also on Wednesday, a boat with 115 migrants presumably arriving from Libya was rescued by the Maltese military and taken to the Mediterranean island state.   

The boat was intercepted some 90 nautical miles south of Malta, and the crew said they were in distress as their dinghy had started taking on water.

This was the second group to arrive on Malta this week after the navy on Tuesday rescued another group of 81 migrants, most of them apparently from Eritrea.

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Sicily braces for rare Mediterranean cyclone as storms continue

Sicily's residents are bracing for the arrival of a cyclone later on Thursday, the second this week after a deadly storm hammered the Italian island, killing three people.

Sicily braces for rare Mediterranean cyclone as storms continue
Cars and market stalls submerged in Catania, Sicily, after heavy rain hit the city and province on october 26th. Photo: STRINGER/ANSA/AFP

A rare tropical-style cyclone known as a “medicane” is set to reach Sicily’s eastern coast and the tip of mainland Calabria between Thursday evening and Friday morning, according to Italian public research institute ISPRA.

“Heavy rainfall and strong sea storms are expected on the coast, with waves of significant height over 4.5 metres (15 feet),” ISPRA said.

The Italian Department for Civil Protection placed eastern Sicily under a new amber alert for Thursday and the highest-level red lert for Friday in anticipation of the storm’s arrival, after almost a week of extreme weather in the area.

A total of three people have been reported killed in flooding on the island this week amid storms that left city streets and squares submerged.

On Tuesday, parts of eastern Sicily were ravaged by a cyclone following days of heavy rains that had sparked flooding and mudslides, killing three people.

Television images from Tuesday showed flooding in the emergency room of Catania’s Garibaldi-Nesima hospital, while rain was seen pouring from the roof inside offices at the city courtroom.

Thursday’s storm was set to hit the same area around Catania, Sicily’s second-largest city, even as residents were still mucking out their streets and homes.

Schools were closed in Syracuse and Catania, where the local government ordered public offices and courts closed through Friday.

The mayor of Catania on Tuesday shut down all businesses and urged residents to stay home.

Antonio Navarra, president of the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change, told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper this week that Sicily was at the centre of extreme weather events, including heatwaves and cyclones.

“We’re trying to understand if, with climate change, these phenomena will become even more intense, if they will change their character as their frequency intensifies,” he said.

READ ALSO: Climate crisis: The Italian cities worst affected by flooding and heatwaves

Cars submerged in Catania, Sicily, after storms hit the city and province on October 26th. Photo: STRINGER/ANSA/AFP

Other forecasters have said the “medicane” is the latest evidence that the climate crisis is irreversibly tropicalising the Mediterranean, after the island’s south-eastern city of Syracuse this August recorded a temperature of 48.8C, the hottest ever seen in Europe.

“Sicily is tropicalising and the upcoming medicane is perhaps the first of this entity, but it certainly won’t be the last,” Christian Mulder, a professor of ecology and climate emergency at the University of Catania, told The Guardian on Wednesday.

“We are used to thinking that this type of hurricane and cyclone begins in the oceans and not in a closed basin like the Mediterranean. But this is not the case,” he said.

“This medicane is forming due to the torrid climate of north Africa and the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The Aegean Sea has a temperature of 3C higher than the average, while the Ionian Sea has a temperature of almost 2C higher than the average. The result is a pressure cooker.”

The storm is expected to leave the area between Saturday and Sunday.