Rome, Oct 3 (IANS/AKI) The Italian coast guard Thursday recovered the bodies of scores of migrants after a ship carrying them to Italy reportedly caught fire and sank off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.
As many as 250 migrants were feared drowned in the shipwreck.
“A total (of) 150 people have been rescued and 82 bodies have been recovered,” the mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini, told AKI.
Local fishermen were reportedly helping the coast guard search the area for survivors and victims. The sea was reportedly awash with bodies and divers were searching for others.
There were reportedly 500 people on board the vessel. At least one child and a pregnant woman were among the dead.
Nicolini urged the creation of humanitarian corridors for migrants fleeing strife in their home countries.
Italian politicians of all stripes expressed sorrow at the loss of life.
Prime minister Enrico Letta described the shipwreck as “an immense tragedy” and said Interior Minister Angelino Alfano and other officials were already travelling to the scene.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano urged a review of the asylum policy and said such deaths “shocked the nation’s consciences”.
Pope Francis urged Catholics to offer prayers for the victims of Thursday’s tragedy.
“Let us pray for the victims of the tragic shipwreck off Lampedusa,” the pontiff wrote in a message on Twitter.
In July, Francis made a historic visit to the tiny southernmost Italian island which is now the main destination for migrants seeking to reach Europe by boat.
He mourned the many who have perished during the dangerous sea voyage and decried what he called “the globalisation of indifference”.
Many thousands of migrants have drowned or died of dehydration during the dangerous journey across the southern Mediterranean, often crammed into unsafe human-traffickers’ boats.
Almost 500 people were reported dead or missing at sea during 2012 alone in attempts to reach Europe, according to the UN.
Thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa have landed in Italy this summer, many from conflict-wrecked Syria and Egypt but also from as far afield as Afghanistan and Eritrea and the landings show no sign of abating.
Italy wants European Union policies to help it handle the influx of tens of thousands of people arriving annually.