Italy to begin recovery of an estimated 400 drowned refugee bodies
Three bodies are washed up on a beach after authorities said at least 37 people were killed when their boat capsized in the Aegean Sea while trying to cross to Greece from Canakkale province, Turkey, Jan. 30, 2016. (AFP/Ozan Kose)
On the one-year anniversary of the April 18, 2015 shipwreck that is considered the worst ever Mediterranean migration accident, Italy will start the recovery of bodies still trapped underwater, an Interior Ministry official said Wednesday.
Prefect Vittorio Piscitelli, a special envoy for missing persons, said the Italian Navy believes that "at least 400" victims will be found inside the hold of the vessel lying about 157 kilometres north-east of the Libyan coast, 375 metres below sea level.
"These are the estimated numbers, but we do not rule out surprises," Piscitelli said at a news briefing at the ministry in Rome.
He said the navy, or Marina Militare, was going to lift up the vessel, cover it up and refrigerate it to conserve the bodies, and tow it to the Sicilian NATO naval base of Melilli, where forensic teams will work on identifying the bodies.
In the immediate aftermath of the shipwreck, rescue teams found 24 bodies and 28 survivors. Later, the Marina Militare used a remotely operated device to recover another 118 bodies from the top of the wreck and surrounding seabed, but could not do anything for victims crammed inside the boat.
In May, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said the recovery of all the bodies was a matter of national pride for Italy.
"We will go fetch that boat, the one that sank in last month's carnage, and we will lift it up. I want the whole world to see what happened. It is unacceptable for some people to keep thinking along the lines of 'out of sight, out of mind,'" Renzi said.