Aid worker says dozens saved from Italian shipwreck

The captain of an aid ship has described the moment his crew used axes and hammers to rescue migrants trapped in the cargo hold of a sinking wooden boat off the coast of Italy.

Ingo Veert, captain of a RESQSHIP aid vessel, told the BBC’s Today programme that his crew initially saved 50 migrants stuck on the deck of the distressed boat near the island of Lampedusa, before smashing their way through the ship to save two men trapped below deck.

He said 10 other men were found dead below the deck of the ship.

Aid workers said another 64 people were still missing at sea, after another nearby vessel sank near the Italian region of Calabria.

The second shipwreck was located about 125 miles off the Italian coast. One of the surviving 12 people died after disembarking, the country’s coastguard said.

Survivors of the shipwreck near Lampedusa were handed over to the Italian coastguard and taken ashore on Monday morning, while the deceased were being towed to the island, according to RESQSHIP.

The boats were carrying migrants who had set off from Libya and Turkey, UN agencies said. The Ansa news agency reported that they had paid around $3,500 (£2,759) each for the voyage.

Mr Veert, who captains the Nadir rescue ship, said it was around 01:30 local time when the first reports of “a completely overloaded migrant boat” came over the radio.

He said by the time the rescue boat reached the vessel around 03:00 it “was almost sinking with water coming in and people completely nervous”.

The captain said his crew gave the survivors lifejackets and used an axe and a hammer to help rescue two people from the wreck. Rescuers found one survivor “almost not breathing” with a body temperature of 32C.

“We opened the deck and made a big hole to bring him out because he was stuck in with a bunch of other [dead] people… He was still alive,” Mr Veert told the BBC.

“All are very young men between 18 and 25,” he added.

The boat had set off from Libya, and was carrying migrants from Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UN children’s agency UNICEF said in a joint statement.

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