Italian rescuer recounts migrant boat "horror story"

Thu Apr 7, 2011 1:34pm GMT

By Stephanie Nebehay and Massimiliano Di Giorgio

GENEVA/ROME (Reuters) - Desperate refugees dragged each other under water and drowned in horrifying scenes recounted by survivors of an overladen migrant boat which sank off the coast of Sicily, a senior aid worker said on Thursday.

Up to 250 people, mainly from countries in Africa, are still missing after the boat, believed to have left Libya on Monday, sank in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Jean-Philippe Chauzy, a spokesmen for the International Organisation for Migration, said the boat got into trouble and capsized soon after Italian coast guard rescue vessels arrived.

"The sea was rough and after people went to one side it began taking in water and sank quickly," Chauzy told Reuters.

"People drowned immediately and some non-swimmers clung to those who could swim, taking them down. It is a real horror story."

Italian rescue vessels resumed their search for survivors in the early hours of Thursday but hopes of finding anyone alive were fading quickly.

Wednesday's incident was the most dramatic of its kind for some time but many smaller boats carrying migrants have sunk while attempting to reach southern Europe from Africa, killing unknown numbers of refugees and migrants.

Speaking earlier in parliament, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said a total of 51 people, most from central Africa, had been picked up on Wednesday by rescue vessels which answered a distress signal sent via Maltese authorities.   Continued...

<p>Refugees from north Africa are helped by Italian Guardia di Finanza officers as they arrive at the southern Italian island of Lampedusa April 6, 2011. REUTERS/Vincenzo Tersigni/EIDON</p>
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