ROME (AP) — Italian navy ships on Thursday located what is believed to be the fishing boat that capsized April 18 with an estimated 800 migrants aboard, a tragedy that spurred Italy and Europe into a new round of soul-searching over how to cope with the record waves of migrants coming ashore from Libya.
Using sonar and a submarine, the navy said Thursday it had located a blue, 25-meter (82-foot) vessel matching the description of the doomed boat about 85 miles (135 kilometers) northeast of the Libyan coast. It was resting on the seabed at a depth of around 375 meters (1,230 feet), a statement said.
A navy official said the boat could be raised at such depths, but that any decision to do so rested with Sicilian prosecutors who are conducting the criminal investigation into the deaths and requested the navy try to locate the wreck.
Survivors reported that up to 800 people were locked into two levels of the hold by the smugglers. The boat capsized when its captain mistakenly rammed it into the freighter that had come to its rescue. It was further destabilized when the migrants on deck then rushed to one side hoping to get off first.
The capsizing prompted renewed calls for Europe to help Italy shoulder the burden of rescuing and caring for migrants, and to find new ways to prevent the migrants from setting off in the first place. At an EU summit in the days that followed, EU leaders pledged new funding and resources to beef up its border patrol mission and diplomatic initiatives gained steam to target the traffickers.
On Thursday, the Italian navy announced it had placed a 3.5 billion euro ($3.9 billion) order for six patrol boats capable of high seas rescues as it upgrades its fleet to take on a greater role in the Mediterranean.
There remains increasing debate about what to do with the migrants once they arrive in Italy.
The interior ministry has told prefects in each of Italy's regions that it needs between 8,000 and 9,000 beds in the coming days to host all the newly-arrived asylum-seekers. Sicily was exempted from the request since its migrant reception centers are already filled beyond capacity.
Many regions, particularly in the north, have declined to take them in.
An interior ministry official, Mario Morcone, told a conference on the migrant crisis Thursday that so far about 33,000 people had arrived in 2015, a 15-percent increase over the same period in 2014. If the pace continues, he said, this year will likely overtake the record 170,000 migrants who arrived in 2014.
Pope Francis chimed in on the debate Thursday, telling Christian leaders from across Europe that their churches "have the duty to work together to provide solidarity and welcome."