16 of 20 Pakistani survivors of Italian shipwreck in ‘good physical condition’: FO

Published February 27, 2023
A helicopter of the Italian law enforcement agency ‘Guardia di Finanza’ flies on February 26, 2023 over the beach of Steccato di Cutro, south of Crotone. — AFP
A helicopter of the Italian law enforcement agency ‘Guardia di Finanza’ flies on February 26, 2023 over the beach of Steccato di Cutro, south of Crotone. — AFP

Foreign Office (FO) Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch on Monday confirmed that 16 Pakistani survivors seemed to be in “good physical condition” after a wooden sailing boat carrying migrants crashed against rocks on the southern Italian coast over the weekend.

The vessel had set sail from Turkiye several days ago with migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and several other countries, and crashed in stormy weather near Steccato di Cutro, a seaside resort on the eastern coast of Calabria, with bodies, shoes, and debris washing up along a long stretch of shoreline.

The death toll rose on Monday to 62 people, a coast guard official told AFP — and that number looked likely to increase.

The FO spokesperson said that a senior embassy official today met the 16 Pakistani survivors of the capsised vessel. “They seemed in good physical edition,” she added.

“According to them there were 20 Pakistanis on the ship,” the FO spokesperson said.

“Embassy is in close contact with Italian authorities to verify the status of the four missing Pakistanis.”

Baloch added that the Pakistani embassy in Italy continued to “vigorously follow the case”.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said reports about the drowning of Pakistani citizens were “deeply concerning and worrying”.

He directed the FO to ascertain facts as “early as possible and take the nation into confidence”.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also said he was “deeply saddened” by the news reports of the shipwreck.

“My sympathies and condolence to the families of the deceased,” he said, highlighting that the Pakistani embassy in Rome was ascertaining facts from the Italian authorities.

Italy beaches combed for bodies

Italy’s coastguard searched the sea and beaches for bodies today following the shipwreck off Calabria, as authorities tried to identify the dead and the Italian government’s migrant policy came under scrutiny.

Sergio di Dato, head of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) team offering psychological support to the survivors, said there were cases of children orphaned in the disaster.

“One Afghan 12-year-old boy lost his entire family, all nine of them — four siblings, his parents, and other very close relatives,” he told journalists.

At Le Castella, where a 15th-century fortress dominates the shoreline, an AFP journalist witnessed the coastguard recovering the body of a woman who looked to be in her early 20s.

Many missing minors

Local officials said the search was ongoing for around 20 people believed to be still missing, though survivors have given differing versions as to how many people were originally on the boat.

Forensic police set about identifying the victims, issuing an email address to which relatives searching for loved ones could send distinguishing details, from eye and hair colour to tattoos or piercings.

Save the Children charity said on Twitter it was supporting survivors from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria, including 10 minors who had been travelling with their families.

“There are many missing minors,” it wrote.

The charity said survivors described how “during the night, near the coast, they heard a loud boom, the boat broke and they all fell into the water”. The survivors were “in shock … some say they saw relatives fall into the water and disappear, or die”.

The boat was reported to have set sail from Izmir in Turkey last week. Three suspected human traffickers were arrested and police were searching for a fourth, media reports said on Monday.

David Morabito, a rescue diver in Calabria, told Rai state broadcaster he had recovered the bodies of young twins from the water.

“When you see the little, lifeless bodies of children, those images pierce your heart,” Morabito said.

“So many children dead. A tragedy,” he added.

Must not set sail

The disaster has further fuelled the debate in Italy over search and rescue measures for saving migrants who run into trouble on the Central Mediterranean route, which is the world’s deadliest.

Far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, elected in September, has pledged to curb migrant arrivals.

She said on Sunday the government was “committed to preventing [migrant boat] departures and, with them, this type of tragedy”, while her interior minister Matteo Paintedosi simply said, “they must not set sail”.

Their reactions were “a sad buck-passing, yet another slap in the face of the victims and survivors of this tragedy”, MSF Italy’s programmes director Marco Bertotto said Monday.

“Sea rescue must not be confused with illegal immigration. We need patrolling on the high seas and coordination,” he told journalists.

Meloni’s government pushed through a controversial law last week that forces migrant aid charities to perform only one life-saving rescue mission at a time before heading directly to ports, which are often far away.

Critics say the measure violates international law and will result in more people drowning.

According to the interior ministry, nearly 14,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea so far this year, up from 5,200 over the same period last year.

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