Tunisian daily: Death toll rises in emigrant “swimming race”
At least 11 would-be African emigrants to Europe drowned when the captain of a boat they were rushing to board made them swim out to sea to win their passage, according to an updated toll published by a Tunisian newspaper on Saturday.
The body of a Nigerian was found washed up on the coast almost a week after the fateful swimming contest, Le Temps newspaper said, after 10 other corpses had been recovered.
Last weekend, the ship's captain organized the horrific contest when more than 120 people sought places aboard a boat equipped to transport only 70 passengers, in hopes of making their illegal entry to Italy.
He headed out to sea and "the first 70 to swim to the boat would win their ticket for the crossing," Le Temps reported earlier this week. Everybody involved had already paid between 500 dinars (360 dollars) and 800 dinars for passage.
All of the immigration hopefuls agreed to participate in the macabre race, and once 70 had reached the boat off Cap Bon on the northeastern tip of Tunisia, it set sail towards Italy.
It was stopped immediately by the Tunisian coast guard and everyone on board was arrested. The bodies of three Tunisians, aged 22, 26 and 39, were fished out of the waters of the Mediterranean Sea almost immediately after the incident.
Since then, the bodies of three more Tunisians, three Nigerians and two Ghanaians have been found. Tunisian authorities fear the toll will continue to rise.
The youngest identified victim was a Ghanaian aged 16 and the oldest a Tunisian aged 39.
The Tunisian and Italian governments are acting together to try and stop the flow of illegal immigrants. The daily Le Quotidien de Tunis has reported that a new agreement is under negotiation on the controlled emigration of Tunisians to Italy. (Albawaba.com)
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)