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Migrant death toll off Lampedusa reaches 300

Oct. 9, 2013 at 2:08 PM   |   Comments

LAMPEDUSA, Italy, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- Crews were still pulling bodies from the sea Tuesday near the Italian island of Lampedusa as officials said the death toll from a migrant ship sinking hit 300.

The dead are among the 500 African migrants believed to have been on a boat that sank Oct. 3 after 23 days at sea in what's being called Italy's deadliest migrant tragedy, CNN reported.

The 155 survivors are mainly from the African nation of Eritrea. CNN said they swam for their lives or were rescued by fishermen or the Italian coast guard.

One survivor, 30-year-old Germani Nagassi, told CNN: "For five hours we were floating, using the dead bodies of our companions. There is nothing worse than this. There were many children. There was a mother with her four children, a mother with an infant, all lost at sea. My mind is scarred and in a terrible condition."

The European Union pledged to provide more help for Italy in dealing with the thousands of people who attempt the crossing from North Africa every year on unsound boats -- many heading to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, about 70 miles from Tunisia, ANSA reported Wednesday.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta faced hecklers on Lampedusa, where tensions are high after migrants held at an overcrowded reception center protested conditions Tuesday.

"Shame. Shame," protesters at Lampedusa airport shouted at Barroso, Letta and other officials when they arrived Wednesday.

"Go to the reception center. Go and see how these people live," people shouted. "Killers."

After arriving at the airport, Barroso and Letta paid their respects at a hangar where coffins of victims were being held, ANSA said.

Cecilia Malmstrom, EU commissioner for home affairs, said Tuesday the bloc needs "a wide operation that will cover the whole Mediterranean from Spain to Cyprus in order to be able to prevent future catastrophes and save more lives," The New York Times reported.

"I've asked member states to give their political support and also make available the necessary resources," Malmstrom said.

Also Tuesday, prosecutors in Agrigento said they were holding a 35-year-old Tunisian man on suspicion of being one of two men in charge. Prosecutors said the man, who hasn't been formally charged, could receive a prison sentence of more than 20 years if found guilty of multiple counts of committing manslaughter, abetting illegal immigration and causing a shipwreck.

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