ROME, February 26: A wooden boat crowded with migrants smashed into rocky reefs and broke apart before dawn Sunday off the Italian coast, authorities said. Rescuers recovered nearly 60 bodies, and dozens more people were missing in the rough waters.
Officials feared the death toll could top 100 since some survivors indicated the boat had as many as 200 passengers when it set out from Turkey, United Nations refugee and migration agencies said.
At least 80 people were found alive, including some who reached the shore after the shipwreck just off Calabria’s coastline along the Ionian Sea, the Italian Coast Guard said. One of the agency’s motorboats rescued two men suffering from hypothermia and recovered the body of a boy.
As sundown approached, firefighters said 59 bodies had been found.
One man was taken into custody for questioning after fellow survivors indicated he was a trafficker, state TV said.
The boat collided with the reefs in wind-whipped seas. Three big chunks of the vessel ended up on the beach near the town of Steccato di Cutro, where splintered pieces of bright blue wood littered the sand like matchsticks.
Italian state TV quoted survivors as saying the boat set out five days ago from Turkey.
More than 170 migrants were estimated to have been aboard the ship, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration said in a joint statement.
Among them were “children and entire families,” according to the U.N. statement, with most of the passengers from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia.