At least 59 people, including an infant, children and several women, died after a wooden boat carrying migrants broke apart on rocks off the coast of Calabria, Italian authorities say.
The death toll is provisional and likely to rise. Bad weather in that part of the Mediterranean sea is hampering search efforts by making the field of debris larger.
The first three bodies washed up on the beach near Staccato di Cutro in Southern Italy around 4:40 a.m. local time Sunday.
The vessel left The Turkish city of Izmir three or four days ago, with 140 to 150 people on board, Reuters reported.
Around 80 people were saved from the water clinging on to pieces of the boat, Italy’s fire brigade told CNN. The survivors were from Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, they added.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni blamed human traffickers. “It is criminal to launch a boat just 20 meters long with 200 people on board in adverse weather,” she said in a statement. “It is inhumane to exchange the lives of men, women and children for the price of a ticket under the false perspective of a safe journey.”
Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi added that new measures must be instituted to reduce such perilous journeys. “It is essential to continue with every possible initiative to stop departures and discourage crossings in any way which takes advantage of the illusory mirage of a better life,” he said in a statement.
Meloni made stopping migrant boats a priority of her hard-right government. This week parliament approved new laws making it more difficult for NGOs to carry out rescues.
In Vatican City on Sunday, in reference to the victims of the shipwreck, Pope Francis said: “I pray for each of them, for the missing, and for the other migrants who survived. I thank those who are helping them and those who are giving them assistance. May the Virgin Mary help these brothers and sisters.”
UNHCR records show that 11,874 people have arrived in Italy so far in 2023 by sea, with 678 of them arriving at Calabria.
Typically, arrivals are from African countries, rather than the Middle East and Asia, with the majority of boats setting off from Libya.
Only 8.3% of arrivals are from Pakistan, 6.7% from Afghanistan and 0.7% from Iran. The rest are primarily from Africa, with 17.3% of arrivals from Ivory Coast alone, 13.1% from Guinea. Other African nations, including North African countries, make up most of the rest.
The most deadly migration route is the Central Mediterranean route, where at least 20,334 people have died since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project.