Lampedusa sinking death toll at 359

AFP-JIJI

Divers found 20 more bodies off the Italian island of Lampedusa on Saturday, bringing the provisional death toll from the Oct. 3 shipwreck to 359.

Only 155 of the about 545 migrants aboard the vessel, mainly from Eritrea, survived the disaster, the worst immigration tragedy for Italy in more than a decade.

An Italian military ship, the Cassiopea, arrived Saturday at Lampedusa, the southernmost island in Italy, to pick up 339 coffins bearing the first batch of victims and transport them to Porto Empedocle, Sicily.

About 100 of the victims may be buried at the cemetery of the southern Sicilian city of Agrigento, and the others in nearby towns, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta said Wednesday that a state funeral will be held for the victims but he did not announce a date.

Rescuers also scrambled to deal with another tragedy in the Mediterranean on Saturday after another migrant boat went down off the coast of Malta the day before about 100 km south of Lampedusa. A Maltese government spokesman put the death toll at 31. The Italian Navy gave the figure of 34 dead.

Humanitarian agencies say nearly 20,000 migrants have perished while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe over the past 20 years.

Some 30,000 migrants have landed in Italy this year — four times as many as in 2012 — many of them fleeing dictatorship in Eritrea.