July 7, 2015 / 11:01 AM / in 2 years

First victims of deadliest migrant shipwreck given funeral in Italy

CATANIA, Italy (Reuters) - Italy held a funeral service on Tuesday for 13 migrants who died in the worst shipwreck in the Mediterranean in recent history, while the navy continued its search for other victims of the disaster.

Pallbearers prepare the coffins of 13 unidentified migrants who died in the April 19, 2015 shipwreck, during an inter-faith funeral service in Catania, Italy July 7, 2015. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello

More than 700 people, most of them locked below deck, were believed to have drowned in April. Their overloaded fishing boat capsized after colliding with a ship that had come to their aid some 70 nautical miles off the coast of Libya.

The Italian navy last week retrieved the first bodies from the wreck, which is lying at a depth of about 370 meters (1,200 feet), using remote-controlled vehicles and a submersible basket to haul up the remains.

With the recovery mission still in full swing, simple wooden coffins carrying the bodies of 13 unidentified migrants were carried into the Palazzo della Cultura in Catania, in eastern Sicily, for an inter-religious service.

“Today, we are gathering here to mark the loss of the lives of other human beings, taken away by the sea. Every time it happens we think it is the last time, but unfortunately that is not the case,” said Ismail Bouchafa, the imam of Catania.

The bodies were later taken to Catania cemetery but were not immediately buried. The authorities are still deciding where all the victims should be interred.

Tens of thousands of migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year in the hope of reaching Italy or Greece. An estimated 2,000 have drowned.

Reporting by Antonio Parrinello, writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Digby Lidstone

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