Migrant boat intercepted off Lampedusa ahead of pope's visit

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 03, 2013 8:39 AM

ROME (Reuters) - The Italian navy intercepted an overcrowded boat off Lampedusa on Wednesday ahead of a visit by Pope Francis to the tiny Sicilian island hard bearing the brunt of a migrant wave that has hit southern Europe in recent years.

Officials transferred around 80 people, including 4 pregnant women and a child, from the boat and took them to Lampedusa, the navy said in a statement. No deaths or serious injuries were reported.

During his visit to Lampedusa on Monday, his first outside Rome since his inauguration in March, Pope Francis will lay a wreath in the sea in memory of thousands of migrants who have died attempting the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe.

He will also celebrate a mass in the island's migrant reception center.

Thousands of refugees and would-be migrants have died attempting the Mediterranean Sea crossing from North Africa to Italy as a result of shipwreck, harsh conditions or lack of food and water. Italy has become the main focus of this seaborne migration to southern Europe.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; editing by Mark Heinrich)