Tue, Oct 15, 2013 - Page 1 News List

Italy ramping up Mediterranean surveillance

STOPPING SHIPWRECKS:More than 200 other migrants rescued at sea on Sunday reached Sicily yesterday as Libya’s prime minister appealed for help with border control

AFP, ROME

Coffins carrying victims of a boat loaded with migrants that sank last week in the Strait of Sicily are unloaded in Porto Empedocles, Italy, on Sunday.

Photo: EPA

A migrant boat carrying 137 people reached Italy from North Africa yesterday as the Italian government prepared to launch new naval and air patrols to prevent repeats of the shipwrecks that have drowned hundreds of Africans this month alone.

The boat docked early yesterday in the port of the southern island of Lampedusa and the migrants, mostly Syrians, were in good condition, an Italian Coast Guard spokesman said.

Separately, more than 200 migrants arrived in ports in eastern Sicily after being rescued on Sunday by an Italian merchant ship and by a coast guard cutter.

The new arrivals follow the deaths of more than 350 people, mostly Somalis and Eritreans, in a shipwreck in the area on Oct. 3.

On Friday last week, at least 34 more migrants drowned when their boat capsized, although the true figure may be above 200.

Lampedusa, which lies 113km from the coast of Tunisia, has been a stepping stone for migrants seeking a better life in Europe for two decades.

The Syrian civil war and unrest in Egypt and other Arab and African countries are fueling the flow of refugees, many of whom have had to pass through an increasingly unstable Libya.

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government yesterday was due to endorse plans to ramp up its surveillance capacity in the Mediterranean this week to try to prevent more tragedies.

Italian Minister of Defense Mario Mauro said on Sunday that Italy would triple its presence in the area. Some newspapers said unmanned drone aircraft based in Sicily could be used to identify the flimsy and overcrowded migrant vessels.

Italy’s plans to expand its sea operations come amid calls for greater EU action and as beleaguered Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who was kidnapped for several hours last week, sought Europe’s help to stem the migrant flow.

The instability in North Africa and the Middle East has removed many controls which used to prevent the boats leaving and the EU has struggled to provide a comprehensive response.

“Our country is in what I’d call an atypical condition. Border control is impossible,” Ali Zeidan said in an interview with Italy’s la Repubblica newspaper published yesterday.

“We need Europe’s support to control the borders, to train our personnel, to use satellites to keep track of these flows. It’s a phenomenon that is much bigger than the capabilities of a single state,” the Libyan leader said.

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