ROME (AP) — A Sicilian port city receiving the bodies of 49 migrants, as well as more than 300 fellow passengers rescued in the Mediterranean, on Monday canceled its annual fireworks show as it mourned the victims of yet another desperate voyage.
Fleeing war, persecution and poverty, more than 2,300 migrants have died at sea so far this year, with the route between Libya, where the smugglers are based, and southern Italy, being the deadliest by far.
Usually, coffins are unloaded onto docks when rescue ships arrive with the bodies of migrants who died after falling overboard or being trapped in the hold of capsizing vessels or from other inhumane conditions.
This time, authorities devised a new method, since so many bodies arrived at once, aboard a Norwegian container ship which took on the dead and the living from an Italian navy rescue vessel Saturday. A crane was being deployed to transfer the container holding the dead onto a truck for transport to a morgue.
Deputy Mayor Marco Consoli said the fireworks tradition was being scrapped "out of respect for the 49" dead. Forty-nine white balloons will be released instead, local news reports said.
Italy's navy found the migrants, who apparently died after inhaling fuel fumes, inside the hold of an overcrowded fishing boat. Italian coast guard officials said survivors include many of the victims' widows. The burial will be in Catania's cemetery.
Elsewhere in Italy's south, a Croatian coast guard vessel, part of the European Triton rescue mission, brought to Reggio Calabria 354 survivors as well as one body found aboard a crowded fishing boat run by smugglers, Italy's coast guard said. Rough seas complicated rescuers' work.
With southern cities running out of shelters for asylum-seekers, survivors will be sent north.
About 103,000 rescued migrants have reached Italy so far this year.