5 Oct 2013

Search for victims of sinking to resume

9:50 pm on 5 October 2013

Divers trying to find the bodies of African migrants shipwrecked off the coast of Italy are due to resume their search in a few hours.

It was earlier suspended because of rough seas.

Rescuers have so far found 111 bodies, and 155 people have been pulled alive from the seas near the island of Lampedusa, the BBC reports.

A day of mourning has been declared, with flags flying at half-mast and a minute of silence observed in all Italian schools.

A special mass was held on Friday evening in the church in Lampedusa.

Pope Francis, visiting Assisi, described Friday as "a day of tears" for the victims and condemned a "savage world" that ignores the plight of people who have to flee poverty and hunger.

He has said he wants to use abandoned Catholic monasteries and convents to house refugees.

The 20-metre ship was carrying around 500 migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Somalia, when it set sail from the Libyan port of Misrata, survivors said.

They said the boat began taking on water when its motor stopped working as it neared Lampedusa early on Thursday morning.

Some of those on board then reportedly set fire to a piece of material to try to attract the attention of passing ships, only to have the fire spread to the rest of the boat.

Italian coastguard ships, fishing boats and helicopters have been taking part in the rescue and recovery operation off an area of Lampedusa called Rabbit Island.

The search has been widened beyond the initial radius of four nautical miles in an effort to recover bodies that have been swept away by tides, but the worsening weather conditions put the operation on hold during the afternoon.