Shipwrecked Migrants: Huddled Masses Dying to Be Free

Apr 26, 2015 - by Denise Noe

A shipwrecked boat from Libya carrying migrants to Italy fatally crashed into a larger Portuguese ship that was responding to a similar distress call.

Authorities believe the doomed Libyan vessel was being navigated by a Tunisian named Mohammed Ali Malek, 27, who made steering mistakes which caused the deadly collision on April 12, 2015.

Over 850 refugees were onboard; most unable to even attempt to escape as the ship went down because they were locked below deck.

Only 28 are known to have survived the disaster. They were taken to a holding center in Catania, Sicily.

A medic named Enrico Vitiello, 22, described the waters in the aftermath of the crash as “a floating cemetery” and says, “I’ll never forget what I saw, all those bodies in the water.”

Rescuer Dr. Giuseppe Pomilla, 32, recalled a man floating in the sea: “We couldn’t tell if he was dead or alive. He looked at us with his eyes wide open, but he wouldn’t speak. Once we got him on the Coast Guard ship, he broke out crying as he grasped the reality that he had lost all his friends.”

The April 12th capsizing is believed to be the worst Mediterranean disaster in living memory, but as people from North Africa flee violence in their home countries, or just seek better economic opportunities, the likelihood for more such catastrophes is only increasing.

According to the International Organization for Migration, the rate of migrant drownings in the Mediterranean is increasing at an alarming rate, with 2015 the worst year yet.

In 2013, approximately 700 people fleeing their war-ravaged countries perished in Mediterranean waters, and in 2014 that toll soared to 3,279.

Italian authorities allege that the most recent victims were already inhumanely treated prior to even boarding the ill-fated craft.

According to testimony cited by Italy’s prosecutors this week, smugglers had held hundreds of the refugees in a building prior to setting sail, where many were subjected to beatings -- and some even killed -- for failing to obey orders.

The watery deaths of those migrants this month has led the European Union to investigate ways to combat migrant smuggling in the hope of preventing anymore similar tragedies.

DENISE NOE

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