A ship carrying 500 African migrants sank off the coast of Sicily on Thursday killing at least 94 people. Two hundred people are still unaccounted for in what is considered one of the deadliest shipwrecks of recent times.
While 159 people have been rescued, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi said in a statement that the death toll is expected to rise as the search continues.
The old wooden boat sank just off the coast of the island of Lampedusa, after a fire started on board. In the early morning Thursday the ship entered closer to shore, when passengers ignited a towel to signal their arrival, New York Times reported. Aurthorities say shortly thereafter the boat was in flames. It later capsized, leaving passengers in the sea near Conigli Island.
The victims that have been recovered so far are those from Somalia, and Eritrea. The coast guard said other migrants were from Ghana as well.
"It's an immense tragedy," said Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini, noting that the dead included at least one child and a pregnant woman.
Raffaella Milano, director of the Italian program of Save the Children, said the number of foreign minors arriving in Europe is startling.
So far this year, 21,780 migrants have reached Italy and about 4,000 of them were children, according to statistics released by Save the Children.
“Italy and Europe cannot ignore such a constant flux of foreign minors arriving alone, without any adults to take care of them,” Raffaella Milano, director of the Italian program of Save the Children, said in a statement.
Mr. Lupi says the fight against human trafficking is a “task which we have to take on and which the international community and the European Community have to take on as well.”