Migrant shipwreck corpses 'packed in like on Auschwitz trains'

2016-07-21 21:13
The wreck of the migrant ship that sank off Sicily in April last year with an estimated 700 people on board, arrives in the Ievoli Ivory docks in the port of Melilli, Sicily.  (AP)

The wreck of the migrant ship that sank off Sicily in April last year with an estimated 700 people on board, arrives in the Ievoli Ivory docks in the port of Melilli, Sicily. (AP)

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Rome - "They squeezed them in everywhere for their last trip, packing them in like on the trains for Auschwitz."

The harrowing task of recovering decomposing migrant bodies from a fishing boat that sank with hundreds of people aboard is finished over a year after it sank, but Italian firefighters' spokesperson Luca Cari is still tormented by the horror he witnessed.

"There were five [migrants] per square metre inside the boat," he said in an article published by Panorama weekly on Thursday.

It was the worst maritime tragedy in the Mediterranean since World War II, leaving only 28 survivors.

The disaster happened when the converted wooden fishing trawler 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 in pitch darkness.

Months later, the wreck was recovered and brought to Sicily. As firefighters pulled the final corpse free last week, Italian prosecutors put the number of victims of the April 2015 tragedy off Libya at 700.

Children were still in the arms of their mothers

The bodies were found everywhere, from the well of the anchor chain to the tiny underfloor compartment where the bilge pump sits, to the engine room, Cari said.

It was clear from their positions that many had fought tooth and nail to get out when the boat rolled - a struggle which proved futile.

"The image of their attempt to escape from the ship as it was sinking will be printed forever on our retinas," said Paolo Quattropani, one of the firemen who lead the operation in Sicily.

They found the bodies of children, still clutched in the arms of their mothers, and did not have the heart to separate them, Cari said.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had vowed to give all of the victims a decent burial to highlight the human cost of the ongoing migrant crisis on Europe's southern shores.

Since 2014, more than 10 000 migrants have died or are feared to have drowned while attempting the perilous journey to Europe by sea, most losing their lives in the central Mediterranean, according to the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR).

Rescue teams who pulled over 550 migrants to safety from rickety vessels in the Mediterranean on Wednesday said they had recovered 22 bodies they had found lying in a pool of fuel and water at the bottom of a dinghy.

Read more on:    italy  |  libya  |  migrants

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