In the latest tragedy in the Strait of Sicily an overloaded barge carrying more than 500 migrants capsized off the Libyan coast Wednesday, resulting in the drowning of at least seven of the passengers.
Two Italian naval ships intervened, the Bettica and the Bergamini, first throwing rubber rafts and life preservers and subsequently bringing aboard all the survivors they could find, who numbered close to 500.
A number of migrants are reportedly still missing and the search for more survivors is ongoing.
The migrant vessel, which was taking in water due to overloading, had been sighted by the ship Bettica in the course of its surveillance in the Strait of Sicily. Shortly afterward, members of the Bettica saw the boat capsize and hundreds of migrants thrown into the sea.
The naval ship immediately began relief operations and contacted the nearby ship Bergamini, which sent a helicopter and other means of naval rescue.
The head of the Northern League party Matteo Salvini was quick to put blame for the tragedy on Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his open-door stance toward migrants.
“Another shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea and more dead. More blood on the guilty consciences of the happy-talking Renzi-ites,” said Salvini, who has been a relentless critic of Italian and European Union immigration policies.
Othman Belbeisi, Libya chief of mission at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), also recalled that between 700 thousand and a million migrants are preparing to disembark from northern Africa, and that no one can foresee how many will be heading to Europe.
Breitbart News reported Tuesday that the total number of migrants arriving into Italy by sea so far this year is more than 31,000, with numbers growing with the good weather as Italy has become virtually the sole point of entry into Europe.
According to a number of humanitarian associations, the sea passage between northern Africa and Italy has now become the prime route for migrants heading for Europe, as the so-called “Balkan route” was closed by Macedonian border controls and a European Union deal with Turkey on immigration.
Since the beginning of 2015, more than 1.2 million Arab, African and Asian migrants fleeing persecution, war and economic hardship have flooded into the European Union.
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