A week of shipwrecks in the Mediterranean culminated Sunday with 700 migrants feared dead and survivors giving harrowing testimony of dozens of small children drowned.
Survivors brought to safety in the Italian ports of Taranto and Pozzallo told the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and Save the Children how their boat sank on Thursday morning after a high-seas drama which saw one woman decapitated.
“We’ll never know the exact number, we’ll never know their identities,” said the UNHCR’s spokeswoman Carlotta Sami. But multiple witness reports suggested over 500 people had drowned in that shipwreck alone.
With some 100 others missing after a boat sank Wednesday, and 45 bodies recovered from a wreck that happened Friday, the UNHCR said it feared up to 700 people had drowned in total this week.
Giovanna Di Benedetto, Save the Children’s Sicily spokeswoman, told AFP that survivors of Thursday’s wreck said around 1,100 people had set out from Libya on Wednesday in two fishing boats and a dinghy, before running into trouble.
“The first boat, carrying some 500 people, was reportedly towing the second, which was carrying another 500. But the second boat began to sink. Some people tried to swim to the first boat, others held onto the rope linking the vessels,” she said.
According to the survivors, the first boat’s Sudanese captain cut the rope, which snapped back and decapitated a woman. The second boat quickly sank, taking those packed tightly into the hold down with it.
The Sudanese captain was arrested on his arrival in Pozzallo along with three other suspected people traffickers.