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Italy: Fears death-toll will top 360 as divers resume search of Lampedusa wreck

last update: October 07, 12:54

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Lampedusa, 7 Oct. (AKI) - Frogmen on Monday re-started their search for the bodies of 169 African migrants believed to be trapped in the wreck of a ship that sank off Italy's southernmost island of Lampedusa last week.

A total of 196 bodies have been recovered so far but it is feared that 363 people drowned out of the 518 migrants crammed on board the 20-metre vessel when it sank on Thursday in what is the worst tragedy of its kind seen off Italy.

Rescuers recovered the bodies of two women early on Monday on the sunken ship's bridge. The bodies of several children have already been recovered and it is feared that 50 more are trapped in the submerged wreck.

Searches by divers were suspended last Friday owing to bad weather and the bodies trapped under water are now in an advanced state of decomposition, hampering the grim task of identifying the dead, officials said.

The boat sank after passengers panicked by flames set to draw the attention bolted to one side of the boat, capsising it. Hundreds were flung into the sea – many could not swim – while others were trapped in the hull.

Police arrested a Tunisian, the ship's alleged captain and member of a people-smuggling gang that made around 500,000 euros from the crossing.

Pope Francis and Italian politicians have deplored the drownings and the disaster has prompted Rome to announce a review of its restrictive immigration laws. The people-smuggling boat set sail from Libya and most of the passengers were asylum-seekers from Eritrea and Somalia.

Many thousands of migrants escaping war and poverty have continued to cross the southern Mediterranean by boat in a bid to reach Europe. Lampedusa is now the main arrival-point for the migrants.

As recently as on Monday, 200 migrants landed on the southern Sicilian coast near Ragusa aboard two boats, including numerous women and children.

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