A migrant boat carrying refugees to their dreams of safety and a new life in Europe has capsized in the Mediterranean, with hundreds feared dead. Official reports say that there were as many as 700 people on board the huge multilevel boat. According to Maltese officials, only 28 survivors have been rescued from the frigid waters in an area about 70 miles north of Libya, and 130 miles from Lampedusa, an Italian island.
According to reports, the ship came into distress over night and sent out an SOS call. Although not able to officially respond immediately, Italian authorities reportedly tasked the freighter, King Jacob, to the scene. As the freighter approached, migrant passengers crowded to one side of the ship causing the rickety boat to capsize, spilling people lining the decks into the Mediterranean. The dark waters left little chance for survival. Authorities in charge of recovery report bodies floating and partially submerged, in and around the area. Sadly, most of the drowned will be found trapped in the sunken wreckage. Smugglers often lock the migrants in the holds below deck. One survivor of the wreckage reports there could have even been up to 950 people on the boat.
By the middle of day Sunday, at least 17 vessels were searching the water for survivors and recovering bodies. Official agencies including the Italian Coast Guard and Malta Marine Rescue are assisting in the recovery effort, along with merchant ships from the area.
Many are calling this migrant tragedy genocide, as human traffickers fill ships to over-capacity, preying on the desperate who are fleeing war and terror. There are an estimated one million migrants waiting in Northern African ports to board these ships, often at gunpoint. Already in 2015, over 900 migrants have perished in this dangerous journey across often-treacherous waters. With the springtime warming, smugglers are ramping up trips and exploiting the desperation, as seen in this migrant ship disaster that will claim hundreds of lives.
European leaders are calling for emergency intervention to deal with the tide of migration. Many are calling for some type of political stabilization of Libya, from which many of the migrants are fleeing. Pope Francis spoke out this Sunday in his weekly address from Vatican City. He called upon the international community to aid Italy in the handling of this mass immigration. He empathized with fellow humans seeking a better life away from poverty and exploitation. He proclaimed that the Mediterranean must not become a vast cemetery for these poor migrant souls.
Last year, over 170,000 people made the migrant journey from the Middle East and Northern Africa, to countries within the European Union (EU). Another 20,000 have arrived already this year. In an effort to address the uncontrolled and dangerous migration at sea, the EU initiated the Triton Program to enhance patrol and rescue within these waters of the Mediterranean. This program will enhance Italy’s existing rescue-program called Mare Nostrum, or “our sea.” This program was created after another boat capsized off the island of Lampedusa, killing 366 people. Both of these programs employ multiple patrol vessels, as well as surveillance aircraft, to patrol the waters up to 30 miles off the coast of Italy.
Prime Minister Renzi of Italy declared in a press conference on Sunday that Europe is witnessing the mass slaughter of migrants perpetrated by these ruthless traffickers. He vowed to discuss this issue as ministers from the EU meet in Luxembourg this week. Sadly, discussion will not change the tragedy that is represented by the capsizing of a migrant ship overnight, drowning literally hundreds of refugees in the Mediterranean.
By Chris Marion