Italy to remove corpses from salvaged migrant boat
ROME // Italy is to begin removing the remains of hundreds of people from a sunken refugee boat after raising it from the Mediterranean seabed and towing it to Sicily, the navy announced on Wednesday.
The boat’s sinking off Libya in April 2015 left as many as 800 people dead in the worst maritime tragedy in the Mediterranean since World War II.
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi has vowed to give all of the victims decent burials as a way of highlighting the human cost of the ongoing refugee crisis on Europe’s southern shores.
The delicate operation to lift the vessel undamaged from 1,245 feet – which began on May 11 but was repeatedly hampered by poor weather conditions – was completed on Monday.
A squad of fire service experts boarded the boat as it was being towed to Sicily to carry out the first assessment of accessible areas.
Once the boat arrives at the Port of Augusta it will be transferred to a refrigerated tent where forensic experts will then begin the task of trying to identify the bodies.
Fingerprints, DNA samples and distinguishing body marks will be placed on file in the hope that the data may be of help to relatives seeking missing loved ones.
The disaster happened when a converted wooden fishing trawler packed with refugees collided with a Portuguese merchant ship that had responded to its SOS signal.
The impact caused panicked passengers to surge to one side of the boat and it keeled over before sinking quickly in pitch darkness.
Only 28 people survived and some of them told rescuers that around 800 people had been crowded on board the boat when it left Libya bound for Italy.
Fifty bodies were recovered after the accident and another 171 since then from around the wreck, suggesting that the remains of as many as 600 people could still be on board. Authorities are due to brief the media on the operation on Thursday.
More than 10,000 people have died in the Mediterranean since the refugee crisis erupted in mid-2013.
Aid agencies say it is likely that many more have disappeared without a trace after being abandoned on the high seas by traffickers.
* Agence France-Presse
Published: June 29, 2016 04:00 AM