Rome: A dead baby plucked out of the sea whose picture caused international outrage this week was probably a six-month-old Somali boy whose mother most likely died in the same shipwreck, Italian authorities said on Wednesday.
Like the photograph of the three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan lying lifeless on a Turkish beach last year, the image put a human face on the more than 9,000 people who have died in the Mediterranean since the start of 2014.
The baby was pulled from the sea last Friday by a German rescuer working for humanitarian organisation Sea-Watch after a wooden boat carrying more than 400 migrants capsized and sank 58 km (36 miles) off the Libyan coast.
Sea-Watch handed the boy’s body over to the crew of an Italian navy ship, the Vega, which brought 135 survivors and 45 bodies recovered after the shipwreck to the port city of Reggio Calabria on Sunday, including those of three small children.
Sea-Watch said it had distributed the photograph of the baby because it wanted to persuade European authorities to ensure safe passage to migrants after at least 700 were feared to have drowned in three shipwrecks in the Mediterranean last week.
The baby in the photograph “was identified by a relative, an uncle, who was among the survivors,” a Reggio Calabria prosecutor told Reuters. The Somali boy’s initials are ML, but the prosecutor declined to release his name because he was a minor.
The other two dead children were a two-year-old boy who was not identified and an eight-month-old Somali girl whose mother was among the dead. Of the 45 bodies brought to port, 28 have so far been identified, the prosecutor said.
Police arrested two survivors of the shipwreck, a Syrian and a Moroccan, suspected of people smuggling.
A third man, from Sudan, thought to have been the captain of the vessel, drowned, the migrants told police.
The severely overcrowded wooden fishing boat described by survivors as “old, decrepit, un-seaworthy” and carrying no life jackets or floatation devices, left late last Thursday from Sabratha, Libya, police said.
A leak developed in the hull and from there “water poured in and the vessel sank, leaving no escape for any of the many migrants below deck, nor for those unable to swim,” the police statement said.