Speaking to Ansa, the Italian news agency in the aftermath of the tragedy, a survivor named Ebrima Singhateh, 20, from The Gambia, said: “We could hear their shouts for hours but we couldn’t do anything. We were scared of being thrown in the sea. Then, not long before another fishing boat and the Italian navy ships arrived, the complaints stopped. I realised they were all dead. Among them was a cousin of mine and other friends from my village.”
According to an unnamed Syrian survivor, quoted in the Italian newspaper La Republica, the problems started when migrants in the hold of the boat began to panic due to the heat and movement of the boat. “They were shouting, asking for help, begging to be let out of there, to be allowed to breathe some fresh air. They tried to clamber on top of one another to get out of the hole in which they had been crammed like animals for slaughter. But the boat started to move around too much; others on the upper level of the boat were scared and then they closed the hatch in their faces and sat down on top of it.”
The fishing boat carrying the bodies of at least 30 men, believed to have succumbed to suffocation while making a voyage to Europe from the Libyan coast, was towed to Sicily on Tuesday as survivors told of seeing others “crammed like animals for slaughter” into a small compartment on board.
Stefano Frumento, captain of the Italian navy frigate Grecale whose crew rescued the boat’s 592 survivors, said the medical staff who saw inside the vessel’s stair-less, locker-like area on Sunday had seen “a mass of bodies”.
The tragedy was the latest involving the Mediterranean sea passage. Last October, after about 400 people died in two successive drownings, the Italian government launched the Mare Nostrum operation, aimed at using naval and coastguard vessels to intercept boats in time. But though the move is thought to have saved a large number of lives, it cannot always avert fatalities.
The victims discovered on Sunday were thought to be male, many of them young and most from sub-Saharan Africa Frumento said.
The prosecutor of Ragusa, in south-east Sicily, is reportedly waiting for autopsies to be carried out before deciding whether to investigate two men, suspected of being the smugglers, on board for either murder or manslaughter.
On Tuesday, as police began interviewing survivors for crucial witness testimony, distressing accounts emerged of the men who had hoped to make a journey to a better future via the fishing boat.
The 20-metre vessel, seen by rescuers about 158 miles north-west of Tripoli, was carrying more than 600 people, mostly from Syria, Senegal, Gambia and Mali. “It was unimaginably full. I have never seen a boat so overloaded. There were people absolutely everywhere,” said Frumento.
He indicated it was still too early to determine the cause of death but Frumento said that initial elements indicated the men had suffocated. Reports suggested victims had inhaled too many fumes from the boat’s motor.]]>