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TOP NEWS | Sunday, 02 September 2007

One migrant dead, three still missing off Sicilian coast

Charlot Zahra

One migrant has died and another three are reported missing at sea after their vessel, a seven-metre fibreglass boat, capsized at sea off the coast of Siracusa in Sicily at around midnight on Friday evening.
The other 14 migrants that were on board the boat, including four women – two of which were pregnant – were rescued by a vessel belonging to the Italian fiscal police.
The search operation for the missing migrant continued yesterday, employing vessels belonging to the Italian fiscal police, the Italian coastguard and the Italian military police, as well as a squad of divers from the Catania fire brigade.
The surviving migrants, who claimed to be Nigerians, were transferred to the Pozzallo reception centre, where they have been interrogated by the Italian authorities who are investigating the case.
Italian media reported that they have been telling the authorities that their vessel capsized after hitting a Maltese patrol boat and that they managed to turn it back onto its bottom.
However, Armed Forces of Malta commander Brigadier Carmel Vassallo denied that there had been a collision with a Maltese patrol boat that night.
“There has not been any AFM patrol boat which collided with a vessel carrying illegal immigrants leading to the vessel sinking at sea,” he told MaltaToday yesterday evening.
Not even the Italian investigators are giving credence to these claims because when the Italian fiscal police arrived on site to rescue the asylum seekers, the migrants’ boat was lying abandoned at sea with its engine stalled.
The vessel was already full of water and it sank soon afterwards.
According to the investigators, the dire weather conditions present when they were rescued, with seas between Force 4 and 5, would not have permitted the migrants to turn the fibreglass boat back onto its bottom.

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