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'Fleeing hardship': Shipwreck kills dozens in southern Italy

At least 61 people confirmed dead, including children, as the wooden boat that set sail from Turkey crashed against the rocks in stormy weather conditions
Wreckage from the wooden gulet, a Turkish sailing boat, seen on the coast of Steccato di Cutro on 26 February 2023 (Screebgrab)

At least 61 people, including children, have died when their wooden sailing boat that had set sail from Turkey several days ago crashed against rocks on the southern Italian coast, officials said. 

The vessel crashed on Sunday near Steccato di Cutro, a seaside resort on the eastern coast of Calabria.

Manuela Curra, a provincial government official, told Reuters that the death toll had reached 58 as of 14:23 GMT. Meanwhile, 81 people survived, with 20 of them taken to hospital, she said.

The vessel was carrying people from Afghanistan, Iran and several other countries, and the victims included 12 children, authorities said.

"Dozens and dozens of people drowned, including children. Lots missing. Calabria is in mourning after this terrible tragedy," the regional governor, Roberto Occhiuto, said.

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His voice cracking up, Ceraso told the SkyTG24 news channel that he had seen "a spectacle that you would never want to see in your life... a gruesome sight... that stays with you for all your life".

Spanish migrant rescue charity Open Arms tweeted in reaction to Sunday's shipwreck: "Stopping, blocking and hindering the work of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) will have only one effect: the death of vulnerable people left without help".

The incident comes a few months after far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the "post-fascist" Brothers of Italy party, won power in October, partly on a promise to stem the flow of migrants reaching Italian shores.

Meloni expressed "deep sorrow" for the deaths. Blaming human traffickers, she vowed to block migrant sea departures to prevent such disasters.

Her right-wing administration has taken a hard line on migration since taking office in October, mostly by restricting the activities of migrant rescue charities with tough new laws that won final parliamentary approval on Thursday.

Meloni accuses charities of encouraging migrants to make the dangerous sea journey to Italy, acting as so-called "pull factors".

'Fleeing hardship'

Customs police said they had arrested one survivor on migrant trafficking charges, according to Reuters.

Wreckage from the wooden gulet, a Turkish sailing boat, was strewn across a large stretch of coast.

Manuela Curra, a provincial government official, said that the vessel left Izmir in eastern Turkey three or four days ago, adding that survivors had reported that some 180 to 200 were on board.

The survivors were mostly from Afghanistan, as well as a few from Pakistan and a couple from Somalia, she said, adding that identifying the nationalities of the dead was harder.

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"Many of these migrants came from Afghanistan and Iran, fleeing conditions of great hardship," Italian President Sergio Mattarella said.

Initial reports from ANSA and other Italian news agencies spoke of 27 bodies washed up on the beach and more found in the water.

Ignazio Mangione, an Italian Red Cross official, told SkyTG24 that very few of the children believed to have been on the boat survived.

Pope Francis, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina and long a vocal advocate for migrants' rights, said he was praying for everyone caught up in the shipwreck.

Italy is one of the main landing points for people trying to enter Europe by sea, with many seeking to travel on to richer northern European nations. The so-called central Mediterranean route is known as one of the world's most dangerous.

The United Nations Missing Migrants Project has registered more than 17,000 deaths and disappearances in the central Mediterranean since 2014. More than 220 have died or disappeared this year, it estimates.

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