Crotone, Italy — Rescue teams pulled another body from the sea on Tuesday, bringing the death toll from Italy’s latest migration tragedy to 64, as prosecutors identified suspected smugglers who allegedly charged 8,000 euros (nearly $8,500) each for the “voyage of death” from Turkey to Italy. Premier Giorgia Meloni sent a letter to European leaders demanding quick action to respond to the migration crisis, insisting that only way to deal with it seriously and humanely is to stop migrants from risking their lives on dangerous sea crossings.
“The point is, the more people who set off, the more people risk dying,” she told RAI state television late Monday.
At least 64 people, including eight children, died when their overcrowded wooden boat slammed into the shoals just a few hundred meters off Italy’s Calabrian coast and broke apart early Sunday in rough seas. Eighty people survived, but dozens more are feared dead since survivors indicated the boat had carried about 170 people when it set off last week from Izmir, Turkey.
Aid groups at the scene have said many of the passengers hailed from Afghanistan, including entire families, as well as from Pakistan, Syria and Iraq. Rescue teams pulled one body from the sea on Tuesday morning, bringing the death toll to 64, said Andrea Mortato, of the firefighter divers unit.
Crotone prosecutor Giuseppe Capoccia confirmed investigators had identified three suspected smugglers, a Turk and two Pakistani nationals. A second Turk is believed to have escaped or died in the wreck.
Italy’s customs police said in a statement that crossing organizers charged 8,000 euros each for the “voyage of death.”
As CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reported, the latest migrant boat tragedy on European shores stoked a roiling debate over how best to address the refugee and migrant crisis facing the continent. Italy’s relatively new, staunchly right-wing government has been criticized by the United Nations and many migrant advocacy groups for adopting policies that inhibit charities from rescuing people from crippled boats in the Mediterranean.
Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi pushed back strongly at suggestions that the rescue was delayed or affected by government policy discouraging aid groups from staying at sea to rescue migrants, however.
The EU border agency Frontex has said its aircraft spotted the boat off Crotone late Saturday and alerted Italian authorities. Italy sent out two patrol vessels, but they had to turn back because of the poor weather. The rescue operation then went out early Sunday after the boat had splintered.
“There was no delay,” Piantedosi said. “Everything possible was done in absolutely prohibitive sea conditions.”
Meloni’s government — Italy’s most far-right leadership since the days of dictator Benito Mussolini — swept elections last year in part on promises to crack down on migration.
During its first months in power, the government has concentrated on complicating efforts by humanitarian boats that had long carried out rescue operations in the central Mediterranean by assigning them ports of disembarkation along Italy’s northern coasts. That means the vessels need more time to return to the sea after bringing migrants aboard and taking them safely to shore.
Piantedosi noted to newspaper Corriere della Sera that aid groups don’t normally operate in the area of Sunday’s shipwreck, which occurred off the Calabrian coast in the Ionian Sea. Rather, the aid groups tend to operate in the central Mediterranean, rescuing migrants who set off from Libya or Tunisia.
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