Three Dead, Six Injured in Migrant Boat Fire Off Italy

Impounded migrant boats, Lampedusa (Toto Martello)

Published Aug 31, 2020 12:40 AM by The Maritime Executive

On Sunday afternoon, at least three were killed and six were injured in a fire aboard a boat carrying migrants about four miles off mainland Italy. 

Most migrant voyages in the Central Mediterranean end in an interdiction near Libya, a rescue on the high seas, or arrival at an island within the borders of the EU (Malta or Lampedusa). This particular vessel transited much farther to reach Crotone, a city on Italy's southeast coast about 400 nautical miles from Libya. 

An Italian patrol vessel arrived to assist the boat when it was about four miles off the beach, and its crew began taking the migrants on board. An engine fire broke out aboard the boat during this evolution, potentially caused by a fuel leak. At least three were killed and six suffered burn injuries, including two Italian first responders. Several of the boat's occupants are still missing. 

“Between five and seven migrants are feared missing. Four migrants are in hospital with serious burn injuries, and two rescue workers have suffered injuries. Twelve migrants were transported to a welcome center,” said Red Cross commissioner Francesco Pascuzzo, speaking to The Guardian. 

Mass arrivals in Lampedusa

On Lampedusa - one of the primary regional destinations for migration due to its proximity to North Africa - about 500 migrants arrived over the course of the weekend. The number included 450 people who arrived on one overladen boat, which required rescue by the Italian Coast Guard. The island's mayor, Toto Martello, sounded the alarm and called for a "general strike" to protest the lack of government involvement in handling the pace of arrivals. 

"This situation has no precedent. People in danger must be helped, but humanitarian hospitality needs rules because we are in danger here now," Martello said. "What do military ships do? We're not at war, why don't they use them for sea safety interventions, and to transfer migrants? The reception center is full . . . and the army that was sent to prevent someone from leaving the facility obviously is not enough since there are those who continue to leave the center, violating the [coronavirus] health safety provisions."

In response, Italy's interior ministry is dispatching three additional passenger ferries to Lampedusa to serve as COVID-19 quarantine ships, according to Al Jazeera.