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Italian fishermen honor dead migrants at sea

October 5, 2013
Associated Press

LAMPEDUSA, Italy (AP) — A flotilla of Italian fishermen motored into rough seas off Lampedusa on Saturday to drop a bouquet of yellow flowers near the spot of a shipwreck where more than 100 African migrants drowned. Some of them bristled at reports that a boat may have violated the "law of the sea" and ignored migrants fighting for their lives.

The search to recover more bodies, meanwhile, was called off for a second day because of the bad weather conditions. Up to 200 migrants may still be missing.

The 20-meter (65-foot) migrant boat sank Thursday after a fire was set onboard to attract attention because of a problem. The migrants had spent two days at sea traveling from Libya. So far, 111 bodies have been recovered and 155 survivors have been accounted for.

About 10 fishing vessels headed out to the site of the shipwreck in choppy seas Friday to drop the flowers and blast their horns in honor of the migrants who died.

Reports that a boat didn't help the stranded migrants prompted a Dutch lawmaker to call for an investigation. But there is no evidence that the boat saw them.

Some provisions of Italian law dissuade boat captains from helping migrants in distress, legislators have said.

But fishermen, including one who saved several dozen of the migrants from the shipwreck, say there is a higher law for them.

"It's the law of the sea!" Vito Fiorini said. "If you find somebody in need you must immediately help. How could you turn away when you see a person who needs help?

"They do it (help) all the time, it's unthinkable that a fisherman of Lampedusa would pretend to see nothing!"

Fiorini, who has said he was the first to reach the fiery wreck and sounded the alarm, said some of the 47 migrants he pulled from the sea had been stripped of their clothing, possibly by the current. Some clung onto water bottles to stay afloat for three hours and others were so slippery from being covered in gasoline that it was hard to pull them onboard.

The scope of the tragedy at Lampedusa — with 111 bodies recovered so far and more than 200 missing, according to survivor accounts given to U.N. officials — has prompted outpourings of grief and calls for a comprehensive EU immigration policy to deal with the tens of thousands fleeing poverty and strife in Africa and the Middle East.

Thousands make the perilous crossing each year, seeking a new life in the prosperous European Union. Smugglers charge thousands of dollars a head for the journey aboard overcrowded, barely seaworthy boats that lack life vests. Each year hundreds die undertaking the crossing.



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