Death in Crotone: the tragedy of a migrant boat

Italian authorities under fire after deadliest shipwreck in the country’s waters since 2013

A homemade cross commemorates migrants lost at sea
A homemade cross commemorates migrants lost at sea
(Image credit: Alfonso Di Vincenzo/Kontrolab/LightRocket via Getty Images)

On 21 February, around 180 people, mostly from Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia and Pakistan, were taken by truck from Istanbul to Izmir on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. That night they boarded a ship, the Luxury 2, for Calabria in southern Italy, said Oliver Meiler in Süddeutsche Zeitung (Munich).

Smugglers sold each place on board for between $4,000 and $8,000. Soon after, the ship’s engine died and the smugglers replaced the Luxury 2 with an old wooden fishing cutter, Summer Love, and the migrants continued on their “long and dangerous journey”.

At 10.30pm on 25 February, a plane operated by Frontex, the EU border agency, spotted the boat in rough seas about 40 miles off the Italian coast. Its thermal cameras gave an image which was “very red”, indicating many people were in the ship’s hold. Frontex notified the Italian authorities, who sent out two boats, but they turned back because the waves were too high.

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At about 5am on the morning of Sunday 26 February, fishermen reported a boat in distress on a sandbank off Steccato di Cutro, a seaside resort in Crotone province. Soon, the first corpses washed up on the beach. The Summer Love had broken up 100 metres from shore, hurling its passengers into the stormy sea.

In total, 81 people survived. More than 70 have been found dead, including 16 children. The rest are still missing. It was the deadliest shipwreck in Italian waters since 2013. A “gloomy, confused” picture has emerged of this terrible episode, said Francesca Paci in La Stampa (Turin). At best, there were “a series of misunderstandings, errors, omissions”; at worst, there was “bad faith”.

The Italian authorities claim that Frontex didn’t warn them that the boat was at risk of being wrecked. Frontex states that it is the responsibility of the national authorities to coordinate search and rescue efforts. Either way, it is unclear why two boats were sent out from the anti-smuggling Guardia di Finanza, rather than coast-guard craft capable of weathering the heavy seas.

It’s also unclear why, after the Guardia di Finanza’s boats returned to port, nothing more was done until it was too late. “Too many things don’t add up, while large and small bodies multiply on the sand.” Enough is enough, said Elena Stancanelli in La Repubblica (Rome).

These deaths should open our eyes to the inhumanity of Italian policy. Giorgia Meloni’s far-right government has done everything it can to deter migrants from reaching Italy. It has just passed a law to crack down on sea-rescue vessels operated by non-governmental organisations. Clearly it regards any steps to save migrants’ lives as mere “pull factors” that will encourage more crossings. Tragedies such as this are the inevitable consequence.

The government response was shocking, said Fabio Marcelli in Il Fatto Quotidiano (Rome). Matteo Piantedosi, the minister of the interior, seemed to heartlessly blame the victims. “Desperation can never justify travelling in conditions that endanger the lives of one’s own children,” he declared.

“Piantedosi is right”, said Maurizio Belpietro in La Verità (Milan). Discouraging migrants is the only sensible policy. “Fewer crossings would mean fewer deaths.” He did not deserve the disgust heaped on him. But the “simple narrative” that refugees arrive in larger numbers when policies are more liberal just doesn’t stack up, said Maurizio Ambrosino in Avvenire (Milan).

Under Meloni’s hardline leadership, more than 14,600 irregular migrants have landed on Italian shores so far this year, up from 5,474 in the same period in 2022, and about 4,300 in 2021.

There are no simple solutions, said Walter Hämmerle in Wiener Zeitung (Vienna). A generous migration policy would prevent such journeys, but there are no “political majorities” for that in the EU. So EU states will carry on negotiating with the nations where the journeys start, where there is often no political will to cooperate. And when that fails, they will carry on “fighting the smugglers”. This approach will not succeed. More than 17,000 people have died crossing the central Mediterranean since 2014. “The toll of blood is unbearable.”

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