LATEST: Italy and Malta race to rescue two more Mediterranean migrant boats in distress

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‘Worst-ever’ migrant shipwreck in which up to 950 feared dead prompts calls for EU action as foreign and interior ministers meet in Luxembourg.
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• Two more Mediterranean migrant boats issue distress calls

Latest

15.52

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has said that EU policy on migrants should be “less callous”, and says European public opinion has been poisoned by xenophobic populists.

Europe risks turning the Mediterranean into a “vast cemetery” due to its “totally inadequate” border protection measures – Operation Triton – he warns.

15.43

David Cameron has said he will be attending an emergency summit of European leaders to discuss the migrant crisis on Thursday following the mass drownings in the Mediterranean.

Donald Tusk, the European Council president, announced the extraordinary meeting would take place on Thursday.

15.15

Italy is studying the possibility of mounting “targeted interventions” against Libya-based people smugglers behind a huge surge in the numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has said:

QuoteThe hypothesis of military intervention [to stabilise Libya] is not on the table… but what is possible are targeted interventions to destroy a criminal racket

Attacks on death rackets, attacks against slave traders [traffickers] are in our thinking.

The option of some sort of limited military action aiming to take out or apprehend smuggling kingpins was first raised last week by Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

He said the operations could be based on the example of anti-terrorist strikes carried out as part of the allied campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

15.05

Justin Forsyth, Save the Children’s CEO, has backed David Cameron’s call for an emergency summit this week on the migrants crisis:

QuoteThe Prime Minister’s backing for an emergency Heads of State summit is extremely welcome. This must happen immediately.

Restarting the search and rescue operation has to be the first agenda item.

Of course we need a longer-term strategy, but first we need to stop the thousands of needless deaths.

14.48

Flavio Di Giacomo, of the International Organisation for Migration, has warned against assuming the new distress calls reported by Italy and Malta from migrant ships are necessarily shipwrecks.

“For now, this is simply a call for help… It’s too soon to talk about a shipwreck,” he told RaiNews24.

He said migrants often make distress calls even when they are not in a desperate situation to ensure they get picked up.

IOM said it had contacted the coast guard with the coordinates for the vessels.

But Federico Soda, also with IOM, warned “they do not have the assets to conduct these rescues right now.”

“The weekend incident has tied up a lot of resources,” he said, adding that the coast guard would “probably try to redirect commercial ships to the area.”

14.34

More details have emerged concerning the two new distress calls from migrant boats in the Mediterranean.

There are thought to be a total of 400-450 people on board the boats.

One of the two vessels in distress is a rubber boat about 30 miles from the coast of Libya with 100-150 people on board and the other is a larger boat with around 300 on board, said Italian PM Matteo Renzi.


Matteo Renzi

14.30

David Cameron has spoken to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of Malta today about the tragic loss of life in the Mediterranean in recent days, a No 10 spokesman has said:

QuoteThe Prime Minister agreed that the EU needed to respond urgently to address the crisis to try to prevent further deaths. All three leaders agreed that the criminal networks behind human traffickers were primarily to blame for this tragedy, and that the highest priority had to be action to disrupt their activities.

The Prime Minister stressed the need for a comprehensive approach to the crisis, which included action to stabilise migrants’ home countries, and using all the tools at our disposal to go after the human traffickers.

He agreed with both Prime Ministers Renzi and Muscat that the establishment of a National Unity Government in Libya was essential for a sustainable solution.

The leaders welcomed today’s urgent meeting of Foreign and Interior Ministers in Luxembourg, and the Prime Minister backed Prime Minister Renzi’s call for an emergency European Council.’


Migrants, who were trying to reach Greece, are rescued by members of the Greek Coast guard and locals near the coast of the southeastern island of Rhodes (REUTERS)

13.54

Italian coast guard officials are struggling to respond to new distress calls issued this morning by three boats thought to have at least 300 people on board as they are still busy responding to Sunday’s shipwreck, according to the International Organisation for Migration:

As EU foreign and interiors met to discuss their response to the worsening crisis, the International Organisation for Migration said it had received a distress call from another boat in the Mediterranean carrying more than 300 people, with at least 20 reported dead.

The caller said that there are over 300 people on his boat and it is already sinking (and) he has already reported fatalities, 20 at least,” the IOM’s Federico Soda wrote in an email.

Mr Soda said the IOM had given the Italian coast guard the coordinates for that and two other distressed vessels, but that they were still tied up with the earlier shipwreck.

13.48

Matteo Renzi, Italy’s prime minister, has said his country is working with Malta to rescue two new migrant boats in distress in the Mediterranean.

It is not yet clear whether these are the same boats whose distress calls were picked up by the International Organisation for Migration’s Rome office (see 12.18) earlier.

The IOM said a caller reported 300 people on one of those boats with about 20 fatalities and said the boat was sinking. The caller provided no information on the other two boats.

13.36

Police in southern Italy say they have broken up a major human smuggling ring responsible for the waves of migrants reaching Italian shores, reports AP.

Quote[Italian police also] detailed how the traffickers make money through illicit payments from desperate migrants willing to make the deadly crossings.

Palermo prosecutor Maurizio Scalia told reporters that arrest warrants have been issued against 24 people, 14 of them in Italy but at least one of them at large in Libya.

Ermias Ghermay, an Ethiopian, was already named in an arrest warrant in connection with an October 2013 capsizing off Lampedusa that left 366 dead and caused international outrage.

At a news conference, prosecutors detailed the fees paid by migrants at every stop of their voyage, based on wire intercepts.

13.25

David Cameron has condemned the “horrific” loss of life in the migrant boat tragedy and pledged Britain’s support in stopping a repeat.

Speaking on an election visit to Crewe, he said:

QuoteFirst of all let me say how tragic it has been, the appalling loss of life that there has been.

These are very dark days for Europe. It really is horrific, the scenes that we have all witnessed on our television screens, the loss of life, and we should put the blame squarely at the appalling human traffickers who are the ones managing and promoting and selling this trade in human life, this trade in human death, that we now need to do everything we can to try and stop.

There’s a vital meeting taking place in Luxembourg today of the EU foreign ministers and I think it’s important that they get that work going on what more can be done.

I believe what’s necessary is a comprehensive approach. We have got to deal with the instability in the countries concerned, we have got to go after the human traffickers and criminals that are running this trade.

We have got to make sure that there is an element of search and rescue, but that can only be one part of this.

We should use all the resources that we have, including for instance our aid budget, which can play a role in trying to stabilise countries and stop people from travelling.

In terms of where people are coming from, it’s striking they are coming from all over Africa and other parts of the Middle East.

But I think the comprehensive approach, using everything that we’ve got, starting with this meeting today in Europe, is what is required, and Britain of course can play a role in helping to deliver all of these decisions.


David Cameron addresses an audience during a general election campaign visit in Crewe (AFP)

13.20

The prime ministers of Poland and the Czech Republic have called for the EU to help stabilise the situation in the countries migrants leave when they embark on the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said on Monday the EU should work to help improve living conditions in such countries, but didn’t give any details.

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said his country is ready to support such measures, adding it’s “necessary for the European Union to focus clearly on ending the civil war in Libya.”

Meanwhile the Greek Coast Guard has said that 93 people have been rescued from the migrant boat that ran aground on the coast of the Greek island of Rhodes.

The death toll stood at three – a man, a woman and a child. About 30 of those rescued were transported to the local hospital, the Coast Guard said, adding that a diver and an Air Force helicopter are continuing the search for any other potential survivors.


Rescue operations are carried out on Rhodes (Rex)

12.46

Video has emerged of an Italian coast guard ship bringing the bodies of 24 victims from Sunday’s deadly sinking to Malta.

The coast guard ship Gregoretti dropped off the bodies and was then continuing on to Sicily with 27 survivors of this weekend’s shipwreck near the Libyan coast that may have claimed as many as 900 lives.

The dead will be buried in Malta.

12.18

The International Organisation for Migration says its Rome office has received a distress call from international waters in the Mediterranean about three boats in need of help.

The IOM says the caller reported 300 people on his boat with about 20 fatalities and said the boat was sinking. The caller provided no information on the other boats.

The IOM had no additional details, including the location of the distress call.

12.14

Concerns over the impact of immigration must not stop Britain and other countries “doing what is right” and providing a home for migrants fleeing across Mediterranean, the Archbishop of Canterbury has insisted.

The Most Rev Justin Welby said all European nations must play their part in a massive continent-wide settlement programme rather than treating the crisis as the responsibility of Italy and its immediate neighbours.

12.08

The gangs behind the trafficking trade often go unidentified and unpunished, despite sending 170,000 people across the Mediterranean last year alone, writes Colin Freeman:

Like any court in Italy’s Mafia heartlands, the prosecutors in the Sicilian town of Agrigento are used to dealing with murder, kidnap and other gruesome crimes. Seldom, though, has anyone in their dock been accused of having as much blood on his hands as Khaled Bensalam, a 35-year-old from Tunisia.

Mr Bensalam is not a Mob hitman, yet his body count is arguably far higher. Prosecutors say he was the captain of a Libyan people-trafficking ship that capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa in October 2013, with 500 people packed in the hold. More than 360 drowned. Mr Bensalam was among those pulled alive from a sea full of corpses, but other survivors later identified as him as the man in charge.

At his latest court appearance last month, prosecutors asked that he be given a 20-year jail sentence for multiple manslaughter, causing a ship to sink and facilitating illegal migration.

As the worst disaster of its kind at the time, the ship’s sinking was a key episode in the modern-day slave trade that people-smuggling has become. The public outcry it caused led to the launch of Operation Mare Nostrum, Italy’s search and rescue mission that was axed last year because of fears that it was acting as a “pull” for further trafficking.


Women weep in the southern Sicilian city of Agrigento during a ceremony commemorating the migrants who drowned off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa

Europe hunts for people-trafficking gangs behind tide of migrant misery

11.25

Video footage has emerged of a boat carrying dozens of immigrants ran aground off the Greek island of Rhodes and at least three have drowned, the Greek coast guard said on Monday.

The vision and photos posted by the local news website Rodiaki show a large, wooden double-masted boat, people packed on board, just meters away from the island.

The vessel rocks wildly in the waves and passengers are seen in a photo jumping into the sea and swimming toward land.


Illegal migrants on Zefyros beach at Rhodes island (Loukas Mastis/EPA)

In another video, about a dozen migrants sit on a floating piece of wreckage pushed toward the shore. Coast Guard officers and passers-by jump into the waves to rescue the migrants, including a young child wearing a lifejacket.

At least three people are known to have died in the incident.

“We have recovered three bodies so far – that of a man, a woman and a child. The search-and-rescue operation continues,” a Greek coast guard official said.

About 80 people have been rescued so far and 23 of those had been taken to hospital, another Greek coast guard official told Reuters.

11.00

EU ministers have begun arriving in Luxembourg, where a foreign ministers meeting has been upgraded into crisis talks involving interior ministers from across the continent.

On their arrival, many have led calls for urgent reforms to the way in which the Mediterranean is currently patrolled.

QuoteWhat’s at stake is the reputation of the European Union. We can’t have a European emergency and an Italian answer – Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni

QuoteWe need resources, much more substantial resources for this operation of border control, border surveillance and … when necessary to help for people who are threatened with being shipwrecked – France’s Europe Minister Harlem Desir

QuoteIt is clear to everyone in the German government that something must be done to prevent further accidents, to prevent mass deaths in the Mediterranean. We now have to move very quickly to agree on the appropriate measures – Steffen Seibert, Angela Merkel’s spokesman

Quote[It is the EU’s] moral duty to concentrate our responsibility as Europeans to prevent these kind of tragedies from happening again and again. We must build a common sense of European responsibility … knowing that there is no easy solution, no magic solution – EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini

10.52

Yesterday’s disaster is thought to be the deadliest to strike the Mediterranean since the Second World War, but is only the latest in a series of mass fatalities as migrants attempt to reach Europe from North Africa and the Middle East:

Mediterranean migrant deaths crisis: timeline
April 19, 2015
Up to 900 migrants feared dead after their overcrowded 70 ft long boat capsized and sank on route from Libya to Italy. Italy’s coastguard said only 28 people had survived, with hundreds being trapped on the boat as it sank.
April 15, 2015
Christian survivors from a boat of African migrants arriving in Palermo, Sicily, tell Italian authorities that Muslim passengers threw 12 migrants overboard to their deaths when fighting broke out on board.
April 12, 2015
Nine confirmed dead after boat capsizes off Libya. Some of the 144 survivors tell aid workers that about 400 aboard drowned.
Feb 8-9, 2015
At least 29 die and 300 people reported missing after four boats become waterlogged in the frigid sea after leaving Libya.
Sept 14, 2014
Libyan navy reports 26 rescued from a boat carrying 250 migrants off Libyan coast. About 200 missing and presumed dead.
Sept 10, 2014
Some 500 Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians and Sudanese drown after their boat is rammed by another boat of human traffickers off Malta.
Feb 6, 2014
At least 15 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa die while swimming from Moroccan coast as they try to reach Spanish enclave of Ceuta. Police fire rubber bullets at the swimmers to force them back to Morocco.
Jan 20, 2014
12 people, including nine children, drown when boat overturns near Greek island of Farmakonis.
Oct 3, 2013
366 people die, 155 survive after shipwreck off Lampedusa.
Aug 10, 2013
Six migrants drown, 94 rescued some 50 feet off a crowded swimming beach in Catania, Sicily.
Dec 14-15, 2012
At least 21 people die, six missing after boat sinks off Greek island of Lesbos.
July 10, 2012
Motorised rubber dinghy deflates between Libya and tiny Sicilian island of Lampedusa; 54 die.
June 2, 2011
At least 270 missing from boat with 700 aboard sinks off Tunisian coast.
May 6, 2011
Boat carrying more than 600 migrants is shipwrecked off Libyan coast. Hundreds reported missing.
May 12, 2008
50 dead off Sicily, including 47 who died aboard after suffering from exposure.
Oct 20, 2003
At least 70 dead in waters off Sicily.
June 20, 2003
50 corpses found, 160 migrants missing, 41 survivors in a shipwreck off Tunisia.
Christmas 1996
300 believed drowned in the waters between Malta and Sicily.
 

10.40

Fishermen who raced to the scene of the worst migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean since the Second World War have described the horror and dismay of finding only dead bodies and bits of flotsam, reports Nick Squires in Catania:

Their testimony emerged as an Italian Coast Guard ship carrying 24 bodies and 28 survivors docked in the port of Valletta in Malta, from where it was later expected to sail to Catania in Sicily.

The survivors will receive medical treatment and are expected to be interviewed by Italian prosecutors and police about exactly what happened.

Many of the migrants were reported to have been locked in the hold – a measure akin to 19th century slave ships but one often taken by people smugglers in order to make it easier to keep control of their human cargo.

Just 24 bodies were found, including that of an African boy aged around 10 or 12.

His body was recovered by an Italian vessel belonging to the Guardia di Finanza border and customs police.

“We came up to him in our rubber dinghy and I was praying deep down in my heart that he would be alive, but a few moments later all hope died,” said Francesco Gallo, an officer with the force. “I gathered him up in my arms as though he was my own son.”

The Italian boats were fishing for prawns when they received the emergency call from the search and rescue services. They pulled up their nets and rushed to the scene as quick as they could.

“It was a sight that broke the hearts of even men of the sea like us,” Vincenzo Bonomo, the captain of one of the fishing boats, told La Repubblica newspaper.

“I saw children’s shoes, clothing, backpacks floating in the water. Every time we saw a shoe or a bag, any sign of life, we thought we may have found a survivor. But every time we were disappointed. It was heart-breaking.

“We didn’t find a single survivor – not one. We didn’t leave the area until the last shred of hope had gone. We wanted to at least find more bodies so that they could be given a dignified burial.”

Mediterranean migrant tragedy: fishermen and naval officers describe horror and despair

10.30

Yet another fatal incident involving migrants attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean is being reported.

At least three people have died, including a child, after a wooden boat carrying dozens of migrants from the Turkish shore ran aground off the eastern Aegean island of Rhodes, Greek authorities say.

The Coast Guard says at least 83 people were on the boat, which ran aground Monday.

Twenty-three people were transported to a hospital for first aid treatment and the others were taken to the local police station.

It was unclear what the total number of people on board was, and authorities say a search and rescue operation is ongoing in the area to locate more potential survivors.

The nationalities of the migrants was not immediately known.

10.20

The death of up to 950 migrants in the Mediterranean on Sunday has dominated newspaper front pages around the world this morning.

In Italy, La Repubblica splashed on “The apocalpyse of the migrants”, while Corriere della Sera lamented “They drowned dreaming of Europe”.

La Repubblica

World in shock over ‘deadliest Mediterranean drowning’: newspaper front pages

09.40

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s Italian foreign policy chief, has said that the European Union has “no more excuses” not to act after the latest migrant disaster in the Mediterranean and demanded “immediate” action.

Arriving at today’s Luxembourg emergency meeting of EU interior and foreign ministers, she said:

QuoteWith this latest tragedy … we have no more excuses, the EU has no more excuses, the member states have no more excuses.

We need immediate action from the EU and the member states.

The main issue here is to build a common sense of European responsibility, knowing that there is no easy solution.

Also in Luxembourg, Philip Hammond, the British foreign secretary, said a solution to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean must include targeting those who organise the trafficking of people:

Quote[The crisis] requires a comprehensive European response including targeting the criminals who are managing this traffic


Federica Mogherini

09.30

The sunken ship’s final port of call before it capsized, drowning up to 950 people, was Zuwara in Libya.

Zuwara is a Berber town (the minority original native inhabitants of North Africa, properly called Amazigh but known as Berbers after the Barbary Coast, of which Zuwara – and Tripoli – were leading towns when the local trade was capturing ships and selling the crew as slaves).

It has always been the centre of people smuggling, in part thanks to its being at the head of Berber general trading/smuggling routes through Berber territories of the Sahara. Its role in smuggling was deeply integral to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s strategies – he would threaten to unleash Zuwara on Europe if EU powers didn’t support him.

After the deal in the desert, he cracked down, which is why it became a hub of anti-Gaddafi resistance, but after Europe turned on him at the start of 2011 in the uprising he basically did a deal with the Zuwarans to allow them to start smuggling again, and regained the town. It’s been shipping people across the Med ever since.

Richard Spencer, the Telegraph’s Middle East Editor, visited Zuwara last year when reporting on this issue, and despite being chased out by local thugs protecting the smuggling racket – which is the town’s major industry – managed to speak to a local smuggler boss:

QuoteThey were brought together by the desert and parted by the sea. Together, the two Eritreans crossed the Sahara, stared down torture and death and finally made it to the Mediterranean.

Now Mohammed Kher is caged in a grim Libyan camp, unable to return home, his ambitions shattered by the coastguard vessel that overtook the flimsy craft he shared with 200 others.

Abdul Salam took another boat and has another life. He made it to Italy, then Norway and is starting afresh.

Their fates show the wheel of 21st century fortune at its crudest.


Captured migrants inside the detention centre at Gherian (DANIEL ETTER)

• Migrants make desperate journey to the promised land

09.05

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said last night that the Mediterranean is now the “world’s deadliest route used by asylum seekers and migrants”.

The chart below shows how both migrant arrivals in Europe and deaths on the crossing of the Mediterranean, have increased dramatically for the past three years.

On current trends, 2015 is on course to far exceed 2014, with 1,600 deaths already this year.

08.40

An Italian coast guard ship has brought the bodies of 24 victims from Sunday’s tragedy to Malta, the small island’s army has said.

The coast guard ship Gregoretti dropped off the bodies early on Monday and was continuing on to Sicily with 28 survivors.

The dead will be buried in Malta.

One survivor who has already been brought to the Sicilian city of Catania has told prosecutors that there were 950 people on board the ship when it sank.

The majority of those who drowned in the sinking have not yet been found, despite search efforts:

08.32

EU foreign and interior ministers will meet at 1300 GMT to discuss the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos will also attend the meeting in Luxembourg, at which the 28 member states will try to find a solution to the growing tide of humanity washing up on the bloc’s southern shores.

08.20

EU ministers are headed into crisis talks this morning under pressure to confront people-smuggling gangs, with up to 950 people feared dead in what may be the Mediterranean’s deadliest migrant disaster to date.

Interior ministers were set to join a previously scheduled foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg to discuss the immigration disaster, an EU official said.

EU president Donald Tusk was considering holding a special summit on the crisis, his spokesman told AFP.

Mr Tusk said on Twitter:

08.10

More than 11,000 other would-be immigrants have been rescued since the middle of last week and current trends suggest last year’s total of 170,000 migrants landing in Italy is likely to be exceeded in 2015.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the Mediterranean is now the “world’s deadliest route used by asylum seekers and migrants”.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) called Monday for the immediate restoration of Mare Nostrum, the now defunct Italian navy search-and-rescue operation.

IOM chief William Lacy Swing also urged other European countries to support the operation which was stopped last year due to high operating costs.


A boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean Sea on April 12, 2015 (Reuters)

“Get Mare Nostrum back out there, give it the support it needs to save these lives,” Swing told AFP in an interview on the sidelines of a conference in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

“Mare Nostrum saved 200,000 lives between October 2013 and December 2014.”

He said that Triton, a much smaller EU-run operation that replaced the Italian one, was “not adequate”.

“They don’t have a mandate, they’re a border protection agency, not a life-saving agency,” he said, adding Triton was not patrolling in the deep waters of the Mediterranean and did not have sufficient equipment.

08.00

Good morning, and welcome to our live coverage of the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

Italy’s coastguard said only 28 people had survived a shipwreck off war-torn Libya, which was seen by many as an avoidable tragedy.

Up to 950 people are feared dead in what UN spokesman Carlotta Sami described as “the worst massacre ever seen in the Mediterranean.”

She said survivors’ testimonies suggested there had been around 700 people on board the 70-foot fishing boat when it keeled over in darkness overnight.

But a Bangladeshi survivor who was taken to hospital by helicopter in Sicily put the numbers on board at 950, and said 200 women and children and nearly 50 children had been among them, according to prosecutors in the Italian city of Catania.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said: “We Europeans risk damaging our credibility if we are not able to prevent these tragic situations which are happening every day.”

Member states Spain, Greece, Germany and France urged immediate action, with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi leading calls for a summit by the end of the week.

The latest disaster comes after a week in which two other migrant shipwrecks left an estimated 450 people dead, with increasing boatloads coming from Libya as the North African country falls deeper into chaos.

If the worst fears about Sunday’s tragedy are confirmed, it would take the death toll since the start of 2015 to more than 1,600.


The bodies of immigrants are brought on shore in the port of Malta by Italian coastguards (Reuters)

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