A fishing boat packed with an estimated 700 people capsized in the Mediterranean last night.
Italy and Malta immediately deployed navy and coast guard ships in an effort to rescue survivors. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said Sunday that 28 bodies had been recovered and that the number is “bound to increase.” Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said 49 people had been rescued.
“If confirmed, this would be the largest tragedy ever in the Mediterranean involving migrants,” Muscat said in a telephone interview. “Nobody should be allowed to die this way.”
A Maltese military official, who asked not be identified, confirmed Italian news reports that about 700 migrants were on board when the boat left the Libyan port of Zuara. The official said the boat capsized about 61 nautical miles (113 kilometers) north of Libya late Saturday.
Italian news reports said the boat capsized when the passengers rushed to one side after spotting a merchant ship, in hopes of being rescued.
One of god’s little jokes, I suppose.
Back in 1996, an Indonesian ferry sank and over 300 people died.
I can’t find reference to it, but I remember news accounts from survivors who said that muslims refused to remove their scarves, veils and other waterlogged clothing, probably because of religious rules and modesty. The clothing weighed them down and they eventually drowned. (That is not criticism of their clothing nor implication that they caused their own deaths.) Survivors said they stripped off shoes and such and used their pants as floatation devices.
Given that the boat came from Libya, some/most of the 700 who died were probably muslim, and this likely happened again. Then again, they were so far from shore with no lifevests that what they wore probably didn’t matter. They never had a chance.
“Italian news reports said the boat capsized when the passengers rushed to one side after spotting a merchant ship, in hopes of being rescued.”
Oh man. Flashbacks to much less dire situations, but running on the same ideas. A bus toiling its way up the Himalaya, and everybody jamming over to one side to see the view of the gorge and making the bus lean toward it. A bus in Pakistan arriving late at the station and everybody trying to jam through the doors at once to get to connecting rides. They would have got off (a lot) faster going one by one. Flying on puddlejumpers between islands in the Pacific and being sternly told by the skipper that the passengers (all 8 of us) were never to be all on one side of the plane at the same time. Being amazed he actually had to tell us that. I mean, I’ve seen bigger mosquitoes than that plane. We were weighed with our luggage before getting on. Obviously you don’t want to stress it. And so on.
What an awful horrible nasty situation.
The problem, I fear, is that reactionary conservatives will agree that “no-one should die this way” and proceed to make sure refugees die somewhere else. Which is exactly the mode of operation my own government is taking at this time.
Australia has, under the guidance of Tony Abbott, decided that boat carrying refugees should be stopped from landing on Australian shores. This is largely because he’s xenophobic, xenophobia plays well in Australia (much to my personal shame), and once refugees get to land, Australian law treats them differently. Instead, we intercept refugee boats at sea, collect all the passengers of the boats, ship the ones who agree to this back to their country of origin and torture the rest.
I wish I was joking about that last part.
As for what to do about stopping people from dying this way while simultaneously preventing reactionary conservatives from following Abbott’s lead… I’ve got nothing, sadly. Xenophobia seems nearly as universal as death and taxes.