At least 111 Eritrean and Somali migrants died when the boat transporting them capsized off the coast of the Italian Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, while 155 others were rescued and a similar number are missing and feared dead, Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said Friday.
Speaking to lower-house lawmakers after returning from the island, he explained that the boat in which "perhaps more than 400 people" were traveling broke down early Thursday off Lampedusa's coast but at a distance where it could not be seen.
The migrants set off flares to attract passing ships, but the flames ignited gasoline on the deck and started a fire, according to Alfano.
The panicked migrants all moved to one side of the boat to get away from the blaze and that caused it to capsize, the minister said.
He added that more victims may be found in the hold of the vessel because that is where those who pay the smallest amount for the voyage typically travel, "the poorest of the poor."
The minister said there was "no reason to believe this tragedy would be the last," noting that more than 30,000 undocumented migrants have arrived in Italy this year by boat, most of whom have been rescued at sea.
The question is "if Europe will try to defend the border it designed with the Schengen Agreement. A state that does not protect its border simply is not a state. So Europe must choose whether to be or not to be," Alfano told the legislators. EFE