[WATCH] 19 migrants die in latest boat tragedy

Malta involved in rescue operation of migrants, up to 19 dead bodies recovered Italian media reports say

File photo
File photo
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on migrants' death • Video by Ray Attard

In the latest tragedy involving migrants, up to 19 persons are thought to be dead as a boat carrying asylum seekers found itself in difficulties around 80 miles from Lampedusa. Government believes that a stampede before or during the transfer of migrants to a merchantile vessel caused their death.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat broke the news while attending the Maratona Ohloq Tbissima in St Venera this morning.

“In recent hours yet another tragedy happened outside our shores, when six boats carrying migrants were detected. One of the boats faced some difficulties and a number of dead bodies will be brought in to Malta while an infant who tragically died will be taken to Italy with his parents who are still alive,” Muscat said.

According to Muscat, the unconfirmed number of deaths is of between 12 and 15.

Government sources told MaltaToday that the infant was among the dead persons, however the total number of victims could not yet be confirmed.

The rescued migrants are being transferred to Italy, while the dead bodies will be brought in to Malta. The infant’s body will be taken to Italy where his parents are being transferred.

The authorities were alerted by a merchant ship and it is thought that the incident happened while the asylum seekers were being transferred on another vessel. Although the incident happened inside Malta's search and rescue area, Lampedusa was the closest port of call.

Initial reports on the Italian media said that a boat carrying 600 asylum seekers found itself in difficulties and Italian authorities recovered 18 bodies from the boat’s lower deck. The Maltese government said the boat was carrying around 400.

While rescuing the migrants, of which a number were transferred to Sicily, a man died while on his way to Palermo.

Conflicting reports on the number of deaths is varying from 12 up to 20. According to Italy’s La Repubblica, the number of persons who lost their lives at see has reached 20. The migrants’ boat – which according to government sources was taking in water – was at 68 nautical miles off Lampedusa. The area falls under Malta’s search and rescue region.

An AFM offshore patrol vessel P61 is currently conducting an operation for the transfer of the bodies onto the vessel.

The government said RCC Malta was coordinating the rescue of a boat with around 400 migrants on board, while they were being transferred onto a merchant vessel. The Italian coast guard was assisting the operation.

“On closer inspection of the migrant vessel after the migrants were transferred onto the ship, it transpired that a number of migrants were found dead in the vessel’s hold, possibly due to a stampede,” the government said on Saturday afternoon.

It also said that over the past three days, AFM personnel stationed at the RCC in Luqa as well as those deployed on air and sea assets have been incessantly working with their Italian counterparts to save lives at sea. 

“Since Thursday, the AFM Operations Centre coordinated four search and rescue cases with a total of 1,062 migrants saved thanks to the coordination between Malta and Italy. During this period Italian forces have also rescued an additional 4,000 migrants,” the government said.

At around 2.35pm, the AFM embarked on its final operation to transfer the bodies from the migrants’ wooden boat to the P61. The boat will be towed. The AFM’s arrival to Malta is expected on Sunday morning.