IOM greets survivors of shipwreck upon arrival in Catania

IOM expresses concern over the number of migrants losing their lives in the Mediterranean especially compared to the same period last year

The 28 survivors of what may be the worst tragedy in living memory involving migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa arrived in Catania, Sicily just before midnight last night, said the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in a statement.

"27 migrants, plus one survivor evacuated to Sicily by helicopter, had been traveling on a wooden fishing boat carrying up to 800 people when it capsized near Libya, as a cargo vessel was coming to its aid," it added.

No other survivors of the shipwreck have been found, and so far only 24 corpses were recovered. The lifeless bodies were brought to Malta by the Italian Coastguard vessel, the Gregoretti, which then proceeded to take the survivors to Catania, on the same day. The bodies will be examined, and following a death certificate, they will be buried according to their religious faith given that they are properly identified.

Of the 28 survivors, most are from Sub Saharan Africa from Mali, Gambia, Cote d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, while others are from Bangladesh and Tunisia.

Soon after the Gregoretti’s arrival in Catania, IOM staffers boarded the vessel to verify the condition of the migrants and provide them with basics, including shoes and socks. The Italian authorities have also arrested two of the survivors (the captain of the vessel and a crew member) on suspicion of human trafficking.

"In the past week, IOM has received reports of 400 migrant deaths in a capsize on 14th April south of Malta, with 50 more on 17th April. Including an estimated 770 lives lost off the coast of Libya over this past weekend, IOM believes the latest death toll on the Mediterranean this year is now of 1,727 migrants."

On Monday reports came in of two or more boats in distress – one carrying between 150 and 200 migrants, the other with 300 on board – and the possibility of 20 fatalities. The whereabouts of those migrants has not been confirmed yet, but a search and rescue operation began late yesterday.

"With this latest count, IOM calculates the 2015 death toll is now more than 30 times last year’s total at this date (April 21) when just 56 migrant deaths were reported in the Mediterranean. Through the end of April last year, 96 migrants had perished, indicating that the last week of April had been the deadliest period of the year to date."

IOM has expressed its fears that the 2014 total of 3,279 migrant deaths may be surpassed this year in a mere matter of weeks.