Dead body
Migrant boat breaks up off Italy, killing 59. This is a representational image. Pixabay

A wooden sailing boat thought to be carrying refugees smashed into rocks off the coast of Calabria, Italy, killing 59 people, including a newborn infant and other children.

Many bodies were said to have washed up on a tourist shoreline close to Steccato di Cutro, while others were also reportedly found at sea.

More than 170 migrants were estimated to have been aboard the ship, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration said in a joint statement.

One of the agency's motorboats rescued two men suffering from hypothermia and recovered the body of a boy.

According to the Ansa news service, a Turkish national has been detained on suspicion of human trafficking. The vessel is believed to have left Turkey four days ago with people from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan onboard. Ansa reported that 20 children, including twins and a newborn baby, were among those who died.

The boat collided with the reefs in rough, wind-whipped seas. Three big chunks of the vessel ended up on the beach near the town of Steccato di Cutro, where splintered pieces of bright blue wood littered the sand like matchsticks, reports NBC News.

"All of the survivors are adults," Red Cross volunteer Ignazio Mangione said. "Unfortunately, all the children are among the missing or were found dead on the beach." A baby was reported among the dead. On Sunday afternoon, the victims' bodies were brought to a sports hall in nearby Crotone.

"It is something one would never want to see. The sea continues to return bodies. Among the victims are women and children," said Antonio Ceraso, the mayor of Cutro.

Fishermen allegedly saw the boat's wreck early on Sunday. "You can see the remains of the boat along 200-300 metres of coast," Ceraso added. "In the past there have been landings but never such a tragedy."

The Italian coast guard was present, along with firemen, police, and Red Cross rescuers.

As rescuers continued their search, Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, called for European governments to "stop arguing" and "agree on just, effective, shared measures to avoid more tragedies," reports The Guardian.

"Another terrible shipwreck in the Mediterranean off the Italian coast," he tweeted. "Dozens of people have died, many children. We mourn them and stand in solidarity with the survivors."

A police helicopter and other aircraft were used in the rescue effort, along with boats from the Coast Guard, border police, and state firefighter teams. Fishermen from the area also helped with the hunt.

Many of the survivors were transported by bus to a makeshift shelter while being covered in blankets and quilts.

In St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis said he was praying for the victims, the missing, and the surviving. He added that he was also praying "for those who offer welcome" to the migrants, as well as for the rescuers.

"It's an enormous tragedy," Crotone Mayor Vincenzo Voce told RAI. "In solidarity, the city will find places in the cemetery" for the dead.

The Italian president, Sergio Mattarella, said the "umpteenth tragedy in the Mediterranean shouldn't leave anyone indifferent", while urging the EU to "finally take concrete responsibility for governing the phenomenon of migration in order to rescue it from human traffickers."

Italy is one of the main landing points for people trying to enter Europe by sea. The so-called central Mediterranean route is known as one of the world's most dangerous.

"It is criminal to launch a boat of just 20 metres long with as many as 200 people onboard in adverse weather forecasts," the rightwing government of the prime minister, Giorgia Meloni said.

"It is inhumane to exchange the lives of men, women and children for the price of a 'ticket' paid by them on the false perspective of a safe journey."

Meloni expressed her "deep sorrow" for the lives cut short by "human traffickers" while repeating her government's commitment to "preventing departures and along with them the tragedies that unfold." Meloni said her government would demand "maximum collaboration" with the countries of departure and origin.

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