The Latest: Migrant survivor says 950 aboard capsized boat

AP News
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Posted: Apr 19, 2015 4:23 PM
The Latest: Migrant survivor says 950 aboard capsized boat

10:20 p.m. (2020 GMT, 4:20 p.m.)

Italian prosecutors say a survivor of the migrant boat capsizing in the Mediterranean has told them 950 people were aboard, including hundreds who were locked in the hold by smugglers.

Catania Prosecutor Giovanni Salvi told The Associated Press by phone from that Sicilian city that the survivor, a man from Bangladesh, gave the information to prosecutors who interviewed him at the Catania hospital where he was flown by an Italian navy helicopter.

Earlier, authorities said a survivor told them that 700 people were aboard the boat, which capsized off Libya's coast on its way to Europe. It wasn't immediately clear if it was the same survivor who gave two different figures, or if the two figures came from two different survivors. The official death toll is 24, with 28 people rescued.

Salvi stressed that there was no confirmation yet of the man's account and that the investigation was ongoing. The man told investigators about 300 people were in the hold when the fishing boat overturned. The survivor said about 200 women and dozens of children were among the passengers.

Gen. Antonino Iraso, of the Italian Border Police which has deployed boats in the rescue operation, seemed to back the survivor's account since so few bodies were found in the area where boat capsized. If so many people were locked in the hold, he told Sky TG24 TV, "surely the boat would have sunk." He said the depths of the sea there are too deep for divers.

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10 p.m. (2000 GMT, 4 p.m. EDT)

Greece's prime minister says he supports Italian Premier Matteo Renzi's call for an emergency European Union summit on the issue of migration after a boat thought to be carrying hundreds of migrants capsized off Libya.

Alexis Tsipras, who spoke with Renzi on the phone Sunday, said southern EU countries must coordinate proposals to prevent migrant tragedies and demanded European solidarity.

Tsipras also told Renzi in the phone conversation that "our seas can't become depositories of dead bodies."

The official death toll in the latest migrant disaster was 24, with 28 rescued, but one survivor said 700 people may have been aboard the boat. Italian authorities said they couldn't confirm the figure, but said the boat was capable of carrying hundreds of people.

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8:55 p.m. (1855 GMT, 2:55 p.m. EDT)

Germany's foreign minister says stabilizing Libya would help prevent tragedies like the capsizing of an overloaded migrant boat in the Mediterranean where hundreds are feared dead.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that it wasn't immediately helpful to focus on more border enforcement and police — even if that is necessary.

Steinmeier said that "the first thing" to be done is "to try to get a government of national unity in Libya."

He said in the transcript of an interview on German public television that "only stable conditions there will keep Libya from being used by migrant smugglers and smuggler organizations." Steinmeier said international cooperation was needed to stop people traffickers.

Authorities say the boat capsized in Libyan waters.

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7:55 p.m. (1755 GMT, 1:55 p.m. EDT)

Britain's foreign secretary says he will bring up the issue of migrant trafficking at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers on Monday.

Philip Hammond made the remarks on Sunday after a migrant boat carrying hundreds of people capsized off Libya's coast. At least 24 people are confirmed dead, and there are 28 survivors. One survivor said the boat had 700 people aboard, but Italian officials said they couldn't confirm that number.

Hammond says "we must target the traffickers who are responsible for so many people dying at sea and prevent their innocent victims from being tricked or forced into making these perilous journeys."

He says he discussed ideas to combat migrant trafficking with Group of Seven foreign ministers last week, and he plans to do so again with EU counterparts in Luxembourg on Monday.

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6:55 p.m. (1655 GMT, 12:55 p.m. EDT)

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi says officials are "not in a position to confirm or verify" that a migrant smugglers' boat that capsized off Libya's coast had 700 people aboard, as one survivor told rescuers.

Renzi told reporters in Rome on Sunday evening that so far there were 28 survivors and 24 dead. Renzi says the boat was headed to Malta.

The premier said 18 ships, including cargo ships, were helping in the search mission.

He ruled out any naval blockade off Libya's coast, saying that would only "wind up helping the smugglers" since military ships would be there to rescue any migrants. He also said migrants can't be forced back to Libya, because of the violent chaos there.

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6:35 p.m. (1635 GMT, 12:35 p.m. EDT)

Germany's interior minister says fighting criminals that smuggle people to Europe for money should be a "central point" in improved migration policy.

Thomas de Maiziere made the statement Sunday after reports that hundreds of people may have drowned when an overloaded boat capsized in Libyan waters.

He said that "there are no simple answers" and that a Europe-wide response was called for.

He said that "we cannot and we will not tolerate these criminals sacrificing human lives on a large scale out of sheer greed."

Maiziere said investigative efforts by police agency Europol had made a good start. He called for better coordination among EU member countries as well as the countries people are fleeing from and the countries they transit.

Maiziere said that "every death is one too many."

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5:40 p.m. (1540 GMT, 11:40 a.m. EDT)

The head of the United Nations' refugee agency says the latest deaths of migrants at sea in the Mediterranean show the need for stronger rescue capabilities.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement Sunday that the capsizing of an overloaded boat in Libyan waters "confirms how urgent it is to restore a robust rescue-at-sea operation."

He says that "otherwise people seeking safety will continue to perish at sea."

Guterres says the agency has urged the European Union for an "urgent response" and to deploy stronger search and rescue forces, and to increase legal avenues for safe migration.

Last year, he said 219,000 people crossed the Mediterranean by sea and 3,500 died. This year, 35,000 asylum seekers and migrants have reached Europe so far.

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4:55 p.m. (1455 GMT, 10:55 a.m. EDT)

Spain's prime minister says words aren't enough anymore and he urged the European Union to take swift action after a boat believed to be crowded with about 700 migrants capsized north of Libya overnight.

There are 24 people confirmed dead, but there are fears that hundreds of others are missing, in what could become the Mediterranean's deadliest known migrant sea disaster.

"Today, and this is the umpteenth time, we hear of yet another human tragedy in the Mediterranean, off the Libyan coast," Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told a political rally Sunday. "It's a daily drama. Three days ago it was 400 people. Four days ago they were 10."

Rajoy says a response has to come from Europe and that "words won't do anymore." He says "we have to act, and as Europeans we are gambling with our credibility if we aren't able to stop these dramatic situations that are now happening on a daily basis."