Last updated: 3 August, 2011

Boat with 330 migrants from Libya reaches Italy

A boat carrying 330 migrants from Libya arrived late Tuesday on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a day after officials found 25 people choked to death in the engine room of another Libyan refugee boat.

Tuesday’s wooden refugee vessel, accompanied to shore by the Italian coast guard, was just 15 metres (50 feet) long and carried migrants, mostly from Somalia and Nigeria, including 50 women and four children.

On Monday, Italian coast guards had found 25 people choked to death in the engine room of a similar boat fleeing Libya crammed with 271 African refugees that landed on the holiday island.

The 15-metre boat was heavily overcrowded, and survivors said they had been at sea for three days. Prosecutors said the victims, crowded into a space accessible only through a trap door, appeared to have died from asphyxiation.

Italy’s secretary of state for immigration Sonia Viale expressed “deep pain” at seeing “once again, so many victims of human traffickers with no scruples”, while the spokeswoman for the UN’s refugee agency in Italy, Laura Boldrini, called for “light to be shed immediately on what happened”.

Lampedusa, which has a surface area of just 20 square kilometres (7.7 square miles), is Italy’s southernmost point and is closer to North Africa than to the Italian mainland.

It is now the biggest gateway for illegal immigration into the European Union following the arrival of tens of thousands of people from North Africa this year.

The almost daily arrivals of refugees from Libya and migrants from Tunisia seen in spring have slowed in recent weeks, with only occasional landings.

Scenes of desperation seen earlier this year have hit the pristine island’s tourism industry but many holidaymakers have started returning to the beaches.