Italian coast guard: migrant bodies washed ashore or in sea

ROME (AP) — The bodies of five migrant women, two of them washed ashore, were recovered Sunday, the Italian coast guard said, as a search continued in rough seas near the tiny island of Lampedusa for some dozen more people feared missing in the capsizing of a fishing boat.

Three of the bodies were retrieved from the sea, where waves as high as 3-meters (10 feet) complicated the coast guard search by boat and helicopter.

RAI state TV and the Italian news agency ANSA, reporting from the Italian Mediterranean island, said that a total of seven bodies had been brought ashore by mid-day. The discrepancy in the numbers wasn’t immediately explained.

Lampedusa Mayor Salvatore Martello told RAI that five bodies were in the island’s morgue. He said he didn’t immediately have information about the reports that a total of seven cadavers had been recovered.

On Saturday, the coast guard said it had rescued 149 migrants after their foundering boat overturned. Once ashore, survivors told authorities that 169 had been originally crowded aboard the 10-meter (33-foot) long boat utilized by Libya-based migrant smugglers.

Survivors included a one-year-old baby, two other children whose parents couldn’t immediately be located among the survivors, and 13 women, RAI said.

Often, those aboard traffickers’ boats in distress call for help, but this time no such request from those aboard was made, the coast guard said, adding that they were alerted by a private citizen.

Two fishermen who said bad weather kept their fleet from going out to sea on Saturday spotted the migrant’s struggling fishing boat.

Stefano Martello said he and his fellow fisherman were walking along a stretch of coast when “we understood immediately that the very high waves were about to knock over the boat,’’ ANSA reported.

“We called the coast guard port office, and (their) motorboats arrived within a few minutes,’’ Martello was quoted as saying. “It was this speediness that saved the migrants who in the meantime had fallen into the water. Without the immediate intervention of the motorboats, they all would have died.”

Risking their lives in hopes of a better future in Europe, hundreds of thousands of migrants have set out in recent years on decrepit fishing boats and flimsy rubber dinghies launched by the Libya-based traffickers.

The coast guard described Saturday’s rescue as particularly dramatic.

In addition to two specialized rescue divers, also jumping into the sea from the coast guard vessel was the engine official, since so many people had tumbled into the sea at the same time.

“In the meantime, the coast guard crew who remained aboard took to throwing everything possible into the sea -- life preservers, floating buoys, sideboard bumpers and every other thing that could allow the shipwrecked to grab onto and save themselves from certain drowning,’’ the coast guard said in a statement.

Among the first to be pulled aboard, it said, was a visually impaired man who attracted the rescuers’ attention.

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