Dozens dead in new migrants tragegy
Dramatic footage has emerged of a Mediterranean Sea rescue showing migrants on a sinking rubber boat desperately clambering up ropes and a ladder from a cargo ship that came to their aid.
Five bodies were recovered and survivors reported that many others had also drowned.
The video was obtained from a crew member of the cargo ship Zeran, which rescued two migrant boats over the weekend. The footage shows migrants jumping off their deflating dinghy to catch life preservers tossed into the water by Zeran crew members. Other migrants empty cans of fuel to use as floats.
A crew member is heard begging them to keep calm, saying: "Easy, easy."
Five bodies were recovered and were brought ashore today along with the survivors to the port in Catania, Sicily. Save the Children said survivors had reported "dozens" of people died in the rescue on Sunday between Libya and Sicily.
Giovanna di Benedetto, from Save the Children, said the exact toll was not known but survivors, in their first interviews with aid groups, reported several people fell into the sea and could not swim.
The weekend saw a dramatic increase in rescues as smugglers in Libya took advantage of calm seas and warm weather to send thousands of would-be refugees out into the Mediterranean in overloaded rubber boats and fishing vessels. The coast guard reported that nearly 7,000 people were rescued in the three days ending Sunday.
The deaths come on top of the estimated 800 migrants who are believed to have drowned last month when their boat capsized off Libya with hundreds of passengers locked in the hold by smugglers. A few days earlier, a further 400 people were feared drowned in another capsizing.
After the deaths, the European Union held an emergency summit and agreed to contribute more boats and patrol aircraft to Mediterranean rescue efforts.
Even with the increased EU response, commercial cargo ships are increasingly being called on by Italy's coast guard to respond to migrants in need, as required by the law of the sea.
Catania prosecutor Giovanni Salvi complained last month that these commercial crews are often not trained or equipped to conduct rescues and that lives can be lost when migrants suddenly shift places on their unseaworthy boats as they try to get off.
Mr Salvi later backtracked and praised the work and commitment of the commercial vessel King Jacob, which had come to the aid of the boat in which the 800 passengers were trapped in the hull and capsized during the rescue.
In addition to commercial vessels, aid groups are pitching in: The Phoenix, a 130ft refitted yacht, arrived in Pozzallo, Sicily, today with 369 mostly Eritrean migrants who were rescued by the crew of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS).
MOAS was founded in 2013 by a Maltese-based American-Italian family and now works with Italian search and rescue authorities to locate and provide first aid to migrants in need. The 20-member crew includes a team from Doctors Without Borders.
The arrivals are stretching Italy's already overtaxed migrant reception centres, with new arrivals being sent inland to be screened for asylum or in many cases, to continue on their journeys north unofficially.
"We are about to reach the limit of our capacity to accommodate them," said the Rev Vincenzo Federico, director of the Caritas Catholic aid group in Salerno, where 652 migrants from Ghana, Nigeria and Gambia arrived today aboard the Italian navy ship Bettica.