Some 250 to 300 bodies are expected to be extracted from a shipwrecked migrant vessel whose recovery from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea has been an unprecedented engineering feat, the Italian Navy said Thursday.
The accident of April 18, 2015 was at the time considered the worst in recent Mediterranean history. It was survived by only 28 people, who told authorities that at least another 700 were dead or missing. Only 169 bodies have so far been found.
‘The recovery of a fishing boat of this size, from a depth of about 400 metres had never been done before; it was a complex operation,’ Rear Admiral Pietro Covino said at a press conference, as quoted by the ANSA news agency.
The 25-metre vessel was located 13 months ago some 85 nautical miles (about 160 kilometers) off the coast of Libya, at a sea depth of 370 metres. Efforts to pull it out of the water started in late April and were concluded on Monday.
The wrecked vessel was towed to the Sicilian NATO naval base at Melilli, where a 150-strong team, including firemen, forensic doctors and Italian Red Cross officials, were working on extracting the bodies and collecting data that may help identify them.
Covino, who addressed the press from the naval base, said the Italian government has earmarked 9.5 million euros (10.5 million dollars) for the entire recovery operation.
In a Facebook message, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi posted some underwater pictures of the vessel and said he insisted on having it recovered. Giving a dignified burial to the dead ‘is one of the great values of our culture.’ ‘Thank you to the Italian Navy, I am proud to be Italian,’ Renzi wrote.
He also noted that the shipwreck jolted the European Union into taking more collective action on migration. However, in a grim reminder that Mediterranean sea crossings remain risky, more deaths at sea were reported Thursday by the Italian Coastguard.
The bodies of 10 women were recovered from a half-sunken dinghy off the Libyan coast, during a rescue operation ‘under adverse weather conditions,’ a statement said. Another 107 migrants were saved, it added.
The same Coastguard vessel intercepted a second dinghy, taking to safety all 116 passengers, and bringing to 223 the daily tally of rescued migrants.
On Wednesday, the figure was 1,288, including 51 intercepted on the Italy-Albania sea route, rather than off Libya.
Data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), updated on Sunday, showed that nearly 230,000 migrants had arrived in Europe this year, including 159,797 in Greece and 62,752 in Italy, while 2,888 had died or gone missing in Mediterranean sea crossings.
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