Italy launches probe into deadly shipwreck as new rescue saves hundreds

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Italy launches probe into deadly shipwreck as new rescue saves hundreds
Italy has launched a probe into the shipwreck that took the lives of 68 migrants on February 26th. Photo by Alessandro SERRANO / AFP

Italy's coastguard brought a boat carrying hundreds of migrants to safety on Friday, while prosecutors began investigating why rescuers arrived too late to last weekend's shipwreck.


Prosecutors in Crotone opened an investigation on Thursday into what went wrong in the rescue operation of migrants off the southern Calabrian coast of Italy, as the death toll from the disaster rose to 68.

According to current information from public authorities, there was a six-hour gap on Saturday night between the moment the boat from Turkey with some 180 people on board was spotted by EU border agency Frontex and the start of the rescue operation by Italy's coastguard.

By then, the overcrowded boat had shattered not far from the shore in a storm, sending the migrants – including many children – into the sea.


Separately on Friday, the coastguard said it had rescued 211 migrants from a fishing boat in distress during the night some 15 kilometres (nine miles) off the island of Lampedusa.

READ ALSO: EU chief urges asylum reform after 60 migrants drown off Italian coast

The rescue was "particularly complex due to the adverse weather and sea conditions, the large number of people on board, and the precarious condition of the drifting vessel, which was beginning to take on water," the coastguard said.

The Crotone prefect's office said Thursday it had so far identified 54 victims of the shipwreck. Those included 48 Afghans, three Pakistanis, and one person each from Syria, the Palestinian Territories and Tunisia.

Debris after a deadly shipwreck off Italy's southern coast

Prosecutors in Crotone, Calabria will try to establish whether the Italian coastguard was at fault in the death of 68 migrants. Photo by Alessandro SERRANO / AFP

The latest body, that of a young adult, was found on Thursday, bringing the death toll to 68, the prefect's office said.

For the investigation, police will now have to reconstruct the chronology of the reports received by Italy's coastguard and their subsequent actions.

Following the shipwreck, Frontex said that one of its patrol aircraft had spotted a heavily overloaded boat on Saturday night that had left from Izmir and was heading for Italy.

The agency said it had alerted the Italian authorities, which it said had dispatched two patrol boats that were forced by bad weather to return to port.

READ ALSO: Italian court rules government’s anti-migrant decree unlawful

The coastguard said Frontex had seen the boat "with only one person visible" and a vessel of Italy's financial police had tried to intercept it.

The disaster has further fuelled the debate in Italy over search and rescue measures for saving migrants who run into trouble on the Central Mediterranean route, the world's deadliest.

Migrants on an Italian coast guard vessel

Italy has on multiple occasions blamed fellow EU member states for an alleged lack of assistance in dealing with the migrant crisis. Photo by Gianluca CHININEA / AFP

Rome blames its EU partners for a lack of solidarity in dealing with this thorny issue.

According to the Italian interior ministry, as of Thursday, 14,432 migrants had landed in Italy since the beginning of the year, compared to 5,474 during the same period last year and 5,305 in 2021.


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