Rome: A day after a boat believed to be carrying over 500 migrants, mainly from Eritrea and Somalia, caught fire and sank off Lampedusa in Italy, inclement weather forced divers to halt their search for hundreds of the missing migrants.
Around 100 corpses were believed to be trapped in the submerged wreck of the ship, and over 100 more bodies have recovered so far. It is feared that over 300 of the ship`s approximately 500 passengers perished in the tragedy, whose victims include women and children.
Rescuers have saved 155 migrants and 111 bodies had been recovered so far, Italy`s deputy prime minister Angelino Alfano told parliament Friday after visiting Lampedusa.
The 66-foot people-smuggling boat had set sail from Libya and most of the migrants were from Somalia, Eritrea and Ghana, officials said.
The European Union needed to give more assistance to Italy in handling migration in the Mediterranean he said, echoing earlier calls from Rome.
"To fight the traffickers in human death requires an integrated strategy and the cooperation of the countries from which the migrants set off, as well as their police forces," Alfano said.
The government declared Friday a national day of mourning and schools were due to observe a minute`s silence in a mark of respect for those who had died.
Pope Francis said Friday was a "day of tears" for the victims of the Lampedusa shipwreck, which he earlier called "shameful".
A spokesman for EU home affairs minister Cecilia Malmstroem said, the 27-member bloc was open to helping Italy manage the influx of migrants and refugees from strife-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East.
Lampedusa is now the main arrival-point for migrants seeking to reach Europe by sea and thousands land each year on the tiny southernmost Italian island and elsewhere on Italy`s southern coast.
Earlier Thursday, reports said around 120 people were rescued and more than 100 bodies brought to shore including those of women and several children.
On Thursday, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, following a cabinet meet, had declared a day of national mourning Friday for the hundreds of migrants feared dead in a shipwreck off the southern island of Lampedusa.
The shipwreck drew condemnation from Pope Francis and from charities including Amnesty and Save the Children, who urged Italy and the European Union to step up efforts patrol their coasts and rescue migrants.
Top EU officials admitted more required to be done to protect migrants heading to Europe by sea.
Regional Politics Commissioner Johannes Hahn said the bloc needed to look at ways of helping Italy, the main arrival point for the people-smuggling boats.
Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem urged effective global cooperation to protect migrants and increase legal immigration to Europe.