A shipwreck off Italy’s Lampedusa Island has resulted in the deaths of 41 migrants, survivors revealed to local media. Four individuals who survived the incident informed rescuers that they had been on a boat departing from Sfax, Tunisia, en route to Italy. The survivors, hailing from the Ivory Coast and Guinea, reached Lampedusa on Wednesday. Over 1,800 lives have been lost in the North Africa to Europe crossing this year. An investigation into the tragedy has been launched by local prosecutor Salvatore Vella. The survivors, including a 13-year-old boy, two men, and a woman, recounted that they were on a 7-meter (20-foot) boat carrying 45 people, of which three were children. The vessel sank shortly after setting off, hit by a large wave. Although 15 passengers were wearing life jackets, this didn’t prevent fatalities. The survivors managed to stay afloat by using inner tubes and life jackets until they encountered an empty boat, where they drifted for several days before being rescued.
Upon their arrival in Lampedusa, the four survivors were fatigued and shocked, although their injuries were minor, according to treating doctor Adrian Chiaramonte. They recounted encountering another ship that had seemingly ignored them, followed by their eventual rescue by a helicopter and an oil tanker.
While the Italian coast guard reported two shipwrecks in the vicinity, it’s unclear if this incident is one of those. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) explained that migrants leaving Tunisia often use inexpensive iron boats that are prone to capsizing in adverse conditions. Tunisian authorities identify Sfax, located about 80 miles (130km) from Lampedusa, as a popular point of departure for migrants aiming for Europe. Recent days have seen the rescue of approximately 2,000 people arriving in Lampedusa by Italian patrol boats and charity organisations.
Tunisia has faced a rise in racism against black Africans and an increase in attempts to leave the country by boat. The United Nations has registered more than 17,000 deaths and disappearances in the central Mediterranean since 2014, making it one of the world’s most perilous migrant routes. In a move to curb “irregular” migration, the EU signed a $118 million (£90 million) deal with Tunisia last month, targeting efforts to counter smuggling, fortify borders, and facilitate the return of migrants. Italy’s far-right government has enforced a policy that directs rescue ships to dock further away, reducing their ability to respond to areas prone to shipwrecks.