At least 27 migrants have died of hypothermia after being picked up near the island of Lampedusa, the Italian coast guard has said, reports BBC. They were part of a group of 105 people found on board an inflatable boat about 160km (100 miles) from the Italian territory. The migrants had summoned help via satellite telephone after getting into trouble. Waves were up to eight metres high and temperatures were just above freezing.
Pietro Bartolo, chief health care official on the island, said the migrants had to spend around 18 hours on the open decks of two patrol boats as they made their way to dry land. Mr Bartolo added: “They were all soaking wet in high seas and strong winds.” It is not the first migrant tragedy to strike Lampedusa. In October 2013, 366 migrants lost their lives when the fishing boat they were travelling in capsized off the coast.
In response, Italy established a search and rescue mission called Mare Nostrum, but it was disbanded a year later. Since then no navy ships capable of hosting large numbers of migrants below deck have patrolled the waters near the Libyan coast. The European Union now runs a border control operation, called Triton, with fewer ships and a much smaller area of operations. Giusi Nicolini, the mayor of Lampedusa, told Adnkronos news agency that the latest deaths were “proof that Triton is not Mare Nostrum”.
Human rights groups had also warned that closing the Mare Nostrum mission would endanger lives.