Survivors of latest Mediterranean migrant tragedy arrive in Italy

Migrants disembark from the Norwegian ship Siem Pilot as they are helped by a volunteer (centre) at the Sicilian harbour of Catania, Italy on Aug 17.
Migrants disembark from the Norwegian ship Siem Pilot as they are helped by a volunteer (centre) at the Sicilian harbour of Catania, Italy on Aug 17. PHOTO: REUTERS

CATANIA, Italy (AFP) - More than 300 survivors of the latest Mediterranean migrant boat tragedy arrived in Sicily on Monday aboard a Norwegian ship also carrying the bodies of 49 of its victims.

The "Siem Pilot" docked at the port of Catania shortly after 11am local time, and an hour later the first batch of survivors began making their way tentatively down gangways on the side of the giant red vessel.

A medical team had gone on board to carry out initial checks on the traumatised migrants.

A total of 313 people, including at least three children, survived Saturday's sinking of an overcrowded fishing boat in which 49 people died from asphyxiation after being overcome by fuel fumes in the hold.

The "Siem Pilot" was also carrying 103 migrants rescued by a German ship after setting off from Libya on an overcrowded rubber dinghy.

Catania mayor Enzo Bianco has declared Tuesday a day of mourning and has said the city will provide space in its cemetries for the victims to be given decent burials.

Hundreds of other rescued migrants were expected to be disembarked at other ports across southern Italy on Monday.

Among them were 354 people, including dozens of women and children, and one corpse deposited by a Croatian patrol boat at Reggio Calabria on the toe of the Italian mainland, the coastguard said.

More than 2,300 would-be immigrants to Europe have died in the Mediterranean this year. Some 103,000 have landed in Italy and 135,000 in Greece.

Humanitarian organisations say the flux is being driven largely by conflict and repression in east Africa and the Middle East and have urged European governments to do more to create safer routes for asylum seekers to reach Europe.