Italian divers pull dozens more bodies from wrecked migrant boat

Mon Oct 7, 2013 7:49pm EDT
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By Gabriele Pileri

LAMPEDUSA, Italy (Reuters) - Italian divers recovered dozens more bodies from a sunken migrant boat on Monday but struggled to free more corpses trapped inside the hulk before night fell.

Over 300 people are feared drowned after the packed boat caught fire and capsized just 1 kilometer from their destination, the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, last week.

It was one of the worst single incidents involving economic migrants and refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa in search of a new life in Europe.

Search teams on Monday pulled 38 more bodies from the wreck submerged in more than 40 meters of water, bringing the total number of bodies recovered to 232.

"Some we have found with their arms outstretched. We try not to notice this kind of thing too much, otherwise the task is too difficult," said police diver Riccardo Nobile. "We can see a woman's hair floating out of a broken porthole. But we haven't been able to get to her."

The divers are only able to remain at the sea bed for a few minutes at a time and the work has been slow. All the bodies from around the ship and on deck have now been recovered, police say, leaving dozens still inside the vessel.

"I'm sure that the most difficult part of the operation is starting now," said Coast Guard diver Rocco Pilon. "Technically it will be much more challenging."

Officials said stormy conditions were expected overnight, but authorities still hope to continue the search on Tuesday.   Continued...

Coffins (in white) of children are seen alongside coffins of other victims from a shipwreck off Sicily, in a hangar of the Lampedusa airport October 5, 2013. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello