Migrant Ship Death Toll Tops 100, Expected to Rise

PHOTO: Italian Shipwreck Deaths
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More than 100 bodies have been pulled from the sea near the wreckage of a ship packed with migrants that capsized off the Italian coast and officials, appalled by the death toll, expect to find more bodies.

"We are now at 103 victims and this is not the end. We will continue to work all night," said Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.

Alfano said the tragedy "offends Europa and the whole of the West."

Pope Francis was clearly upset by the sinking.

"The word disgrace comes to me. It is a disgrace," he told the gathering in Italian.

"Let us pray together to God for those who lost their life, men, women and children, for the relatives and for all refugees. Let us unite our efforts so that similar tragedies do not happen again. Only a decided collaboration among all can help to stop them," he said.

The pope, who had visited Lampedusa Island in July and prayed for immigrants and refugees there, immediately issued his condolences, tweeting, "Pray God for the victims of the shipwreck off Lampedusa."

The vessel might have been carrying more than 500 Africans when it reportedly capsized off tiny Rabbit Island, near the bigger Italian island of Lampedusa, Coast Guard authorities say.

Nearly 150 people have been rescued and were being treated for shock and hyperthermia at makeshift clinics near the port on the island.

The search for more survivors and bodies is continuing.

Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini was in tears as she described the scene. "It is a horror, a horror," she told Italian media. "They don't stop unloading dead bodies."

Italian satellite TV channels showed the small pier lined with body bags as dazed residents looked on. Banner television headlines decreed that the nation was in mourning.

There had been "enough tragedies" at sea, and it was time to look again at asylum laws, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said.

The boat, which reportedly set sail from nearby Libya, apparently capsized and then caught fire. Rescue workers report that a blanket might have been lit to raise the alarm, sparking the fire. Helicopters and rescue boats are continuing to search the accident scene. Local fishing boats have also helped in searching.

Lampedusa is 70 miles from the African coast. It is the closest Italian island and the nearest European arrival point for asylum seekers. The ship was packed with immigrants from Eritrea, Ghana and Somalia, according to Italian Coast Guard officials.

Lampedusa and nearby Malta have been inundated in the past few years with refugees seeking to arrive in Europe. The Maltese government recently began patrols to prevent illegal access to the waters in an effort to stop the flow of asylum seekers trying to reach their shores.

Under European laws, refugees are the responsibility of country where they first make landfall. Lampedusa hosts a temporary asylum camp for refugee seekers.

The Italian government has dispatched Interior Minister Angelo Alfano to oversee the operations.

This is one of the deadliest wrecks in recent times, and the second this week. Thirteen people drowned last week trying to reach Sicily.

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