Hope fades for missing migrants off Italian island
Apr 6, 2011, 16:35 GMT
Lampedusa, Italy - Hopes were fading on Wednesday of finding around 250 people feared missing after a boat carrying would-be immigrants capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa, officials said.
Only 51 people had been rescued by late afternoon, some 12 hours after the accident happened, officials said.
Of the survivors, 48, including a eight-month pregnant woman, were picked up by an Italian coast guard patrol while three were taken aboard a trawler from Sicily.
'Dozens' of bodies, including those of children, were spotted in the water by the crew of a helicopter involved in a search for survivors.
The group picked up by the coast guard patrol arrived by mid morning on Lampedusa from the area of the shipwreck, which is around 39 nautical miles from the island and 101 nautical miles from Malta.
'Some are are being treated for hypothermia after spending hours in very cold water,' coast guard officer Pietro Carosia said.
Those shipwrecked were mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, including nationals of Eritrea, Somalia and Ivory Coast, a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokeswoman said.
Survivors said their vessel had left Sabratha in north-western Libya on Sunday, UNHCR spokeswoman Laura Boldrini was quoted as saying by the ANSA newsagency.
At least 30 women and several children were believed to have been on board, Boldrini said.
Initial rescue operations involving three Italian coast guard ships, a helicopter and a Maltese airplane were hampered by strong winds and rough seas, officials said.
Since January's uprising in Tunisia, around 22,000 Tunisian migrants seeking better living conditions abroad have reached Lampedusa. Most of them have been transferred to reception centres elsewhere in Italy.
Italy has repeatedly asked other European Union member nations to assist in accommodating the migrants.
It has also warned that the conflict in Libya may trigger many more arrivals with people from sub-Saharan Africa taking advantage of the lack of border controls and using the North African country as a springboard to reach Europe.
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