Italian divers have described the horror of seeing dozens of dead refugees trapped inside the hull of a fishing boat that sank off the coast of the island of Lampedusa, as the authorities said they planned to raise the wreck.
With the death toll from the worst disaster of its kind in the Mediterranean expected to exceed 300, survivors recounted the nightmarish journeys they had to endure to reach the tiny island, trekking across the Sahara and being treated “like slaves” in Libya as they tried to scrabble together enough money for the crossing.
They described how an estimated 500 people were packed on board the 66ft-long fishing vessel, as though it was a modern-day slave ship, with those in the hold having no chance of survival when the boat flipped over.
It capsized just half a nautical mile off Lampedusa’s Rabbit Beach, which has been acclaimed as one of the most beautiful bays in the Mediterranean, and lies on the seabed at a depth of about 130ft.
The boat sank in the early hours of Thursday morning after someone on board set fire to a blanket in an attempt to attract attention from the Italian coast guard.
The fire swiftly ran out of control and hundreds of terrified passengers rushed to one side of the vessel, causing it to capsize amid scenes of panic.
So far 111 bodies have been recovered, but an estimated 230 people are missing and are believed to have drowned.
A team of divers, some of whom were involved in searching the semi-submerged Costa Concordia cruise ship, which sank off the Tuscan island of Giglio last year, have inspected the wreck of the fishing boat, which set out from the port of Misurata in Libya.
“There were bodies everywhere, trapped inside the wreck, but also on top of it and around the boat,” said Simone D’Ippolito, who owns a diving business on Lampedusa and was one of the first divers to descend to the wreck.
“I saw at least 100 corpses. But what struck me most was that some of them were locked in an embrace – they were hugging each other as they exhaled their last breath. Nobody wants to die alone. I still can’t get the sight out of my head. I can’t think of anything else,” an emotional Mr D’Ippolito told an Italian news agency, his voice quavering.
Read more : The Telegraph