x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Egyptian asylum-seekers drown after jumping from migrant ship off Sicily coast

The six victims who leapt from a fishing boat thinking they had arrived onshore were identified as between 17 and 27 years of age.

ROME // Six migrants who drowned after jumping ship off a tourist beach in Sicily were Egyptians, said Italian investigators yesterday.

The six victims who leapt from a fishing boat on Saturday thinking they had arrived onshore were identified as between 17 and 27 years of age.

The boat was illegally transporting nearly 100 migrants and had hit a sandbar about 15 metres from the shore. Some of the migrants on board managed to swim to the beach, and others were rescued by the Italian coastguard.

Investigators believe that the boat was transporting more than 100 passengers, mostly Syrians and some Egyptians, of whom 94 were accounted for yesterday. Three smugglers escaped by jumping into the sea.

The old wooden boat carrying the migrants had been towed by a "larger ship" and abandoned off the coast of Catania in eastern Sicily.

The Italian foreign minister, Emma Bonino, said there was "no miracle solution to the influx of immigrants" from war-torn and poverty-stricken countries in the Middle East and Africa and said Italy was "not the dreams of these immigrants".

The country was instead "a country of transit", she said, emphasising the difficulty of preventing such incidents.

"The southern borders of Libya are out of control and harbour Sudanese, Nigerians and many others," she said.

Two Egyptians, aged 16 and 17 and believed to have been responsible for distributing food on-board the vessel, were also questioned by police.

The prosecutor of Catania, Giovanni Salvi, opened an investigation into incitement to illegal immigration and possible multiple murders on Saturday.

To enter unnoticed to a city the size of Catania, "they were probably transferred at night from a larger vessel or they would have been spotted earlier", he said.

This implied the existence of an "organised network", including possible links with the Sicilian Mafia, he said.

Another vessel carrying 80 Egyptians and Syrians ran into trouble in Calabria, southern Italy, yesterday, but managed to pull away from a sandbank without any injuries. It was the fifth boat of migrants in the region in the past two weeks.