Rome: Five people were found dead in a
rickety boat off Italy`s southernmost tip which was carrying
around 60 immigrants, the Italian coast guard said Saturday,
adding that a rescue mission was under way.
"The boat is carrying around 60 people, who appear to
be from sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, five among them
were found dead," Giuseppe Cannarile, a lieutenant with the
coast guard at Lampedusa island said.
"There is a health emergency aboard, some of the
immigrants are in a serious condition," said Cannarile, who
added that there were two pregnant women among the passengers.
"We received an emergency call for help from the boat
around 3:00 am (0200 GMT) this morning, and the coast guard
patrol boats set off immediately to find them. They were about
80 miles from the coast," he said.
The immigrants had called for help via a satellite
phone after days at sea.
The most seriously ill were transferred onto patrol
boats, while one was air-lifted off the boat by helicopter,
Italian media reported.
Yesterday, a boat arrived on Lampedusa with 54 illegal
immigrants -- including four children -- on board, who said
they had set sail from Libya.
About 60,000 people landed in Italy in 2011, according
to the UN refugee agency. Many were Africans who began fleeing
for Lampedusa -- which lies closer to North Africa than to
mainland Italy -- when the conflict in Libya began last year.
Fears are that improvements in the weather could
encourage a new wave of immigrants and refugees to attempt the
dangerous crossing soon, especially with ongoing civil unrest
in several areas.
Aid agencies have called on Rome to prepare the
refugee centre on Lampedusa before an emergency hits.
The port on the tiny island was declared "unsafe" in
September 2011, after rioting Tunisian migrants angered at
their long detention in cramped conditions set fire to the
island`s reception centre.