Disaster: 82 migrants killed in Boat Fire

At least 82 migrants have been killed and scores are missing after a boat caught fire and capsized near a Sicilian island.

About 150 people have been pulled from the water off Lampedusa, as emergency workers race to rescue more survivors.

The coastguard said it appeared that there were between 400 and 500 migrants on the boat when it sank.

They were all believed to be Eritreans coming from Libya, the UN said.

Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini said the dead included a young child and pregnant woman.

The bodies were being laid out on the waterfront, and officials said there were many more in the water.

“It’s horrific, like a cemetery, they are still bringing them out,” Ms Nicolini told reporters.

The mayor added some of the survivors told her they lit a small fire on their boat around half a mile from the shore to attract the attention after their vessel suffered engine failure.

The fire then spread, causing panic on board which caused the boat to flip over, she said.

A young Tunisian man believed to be one of the crew members has been detained, Ansa reported.

Shaken survivors wrapped in thermal blankets arrived on the dock, as an emergency worker broke down in tears.

Pietro Bartolo, a doctor at Lampedusa hospital, said: “In terms of its magnitude it’s an unprecedented tragedy. In many years of work I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”

Officials said the bodies were being taken to an airport hangar because of the large numbers.

“Unfortunately we don’t need ambulances but hearses,” Dr Bartolo said.

The Italian coast guard said ships and helicopters from across the region, as well as local fishing boats, were on the scene trying to find survivors in the sea.

Pope Francis visited Lampedusa in July and called for an end to indifference to the plight of refugees.

“The word disgrace comes to mind. It’s a disgrace,” he said of Thursday’s disaster.

The Pope landed on Lampedusa at the same time as nearly 200 immigrants from Africa were being detained.

Lampedusa, which is closer to Africa than it is to the Italian mainland, is the main port of entry into Europe for African migrants smuggled by boat from Libya or Tunisia.

Each year, thousands of people make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean in often overcrowded vessels.

There has been an increase in the incidents off Italy in recent weeks amid an upsurge in arrivals – mainly from Eritrea, Somalia, Egypt and Syria.

On Monday, 13 Eritrean migrants drowned as they tried to swim ashore when their boat ran aground off Sicily near the city of Ragusa.

In a similar incident near Catania in another part of Sicily in August, six young Egyptian men drowned trying to reach the shore.

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