Migrant boats carrying 400 people send SOS

2015-04-20 16:37
An Italian Coast Guard carrying survivors and victims of a sea disaster in Valletta's Grand Harbour. (Lino Azzopardi, AP)

An Italian Coast Guard carrying survivors and victims of a sea disaster in Valletta's Grand Harbour. (Lino Azzopardi, AP)

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Rome - Italian Premier Matteo Renzi says Italian and Maltese ships are responding to two migrant emergencies near the Libyan coast.

Renzi told a joint press conference with Malta's prime minister, Joseph Muscat, on Monday that ships from the two countries were responding to distress calls from an inflatable life-raft near the Libyan coast with 100 to 150 aboard and to another boat with 300 people on board.

Renzi said the rescue operations, coming after the deadly shipwreck this weekend, are evidence that smugglers' activities are intensifying and that Europe needs to unite to combat the human trafficking in the Mediterranean.

Muscat called the weekend tragedy "a game changer" with the "realisation that if Europe doesn't work together history will judge it very badly."

David Cameron

British Prime Minister David Cameron has paused from campaigning for the general election to lash out at the traffickers behind the tragedy in the Mediterranean.

"It is a very dark day for Europe, he said. "It really is horrific the scenes that we have all witnessed on our television screens, the loss of life.

"We should put the blame squarely with the criminal human traffickers who are the ones managing, promoting and selling this trade, this trade in human life."

Cameron said he believes in a comprehensive approach that deals with the instability in the countries involved.

" We must use all the resources we have, including Britain's aid budget, which can play a role in trying to stabilize countries and trying to stop people from trafficking," he said.

Smuggling ring

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

Titanic

An international aid agency spokesperson has compared the scale of deaths in recent shipwrecks to the death toll in the sinking of the Titanic luxury liner more than a century ago.

Sarah Tyler, a spokesperson for Save the Children in Catania, Sicily, said more than 1 000 people have died in the waters of the Mediterranean, adding "that is almost as many as died in the Titanic, and 31 times the number who died when the Costa Concordia sank."

One survivor's account has put at up to 950 the number of people on board the smuggler's boat that sank off the coast of Libya this weekend, with only a handful rescued. Last week more than 400 people died or went missing in another shipwreck.

The Bangladeshi survivor said many of the passengers were below deck and trapped inside when the boat sank.


Read more on:    italy  |  libya  |  migration  |  maritime accidents

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