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Italian Authorities Work to Identify Drowned Migrant Infant Seen in Shocking Photo

The infant was pulled from the sea last Friday by rescuers after an overcrowded wooden fishing boat carrying more than 400 migrants capsized and sank off the Libyan coast.
Photo by Italian navy/AP Photo

A dead infant plucked out of the sea whose picture sparked international outrage this week was probably a six-month-old Somali boy whose mother also likely died in the shipwreck, Italian police said on Wednesday.

The baby was pulled from the sea last Friday by a German rescuer working for humanitarian organization Sea-Watch after a wooden boat carrying more than 400 migrants capsized and sank some 36 miles off the Libyan coast.


Sea-Watch immediately handed the boy's body over to the crew of the Vega, an Italian navy ship. The Vega brought 135 survivors and 45 bodies recovered from the shipwreck to the southern port city of Reggio Calabria on Sunday, including those of three small children, two boys and a girl. 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.

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 separate shipwrecks in the Mediterranean last week.

"The photograph corresponds with the corpse of a six-month-old boy, who survivors of the shipwreck said was from Somalia," a high-ranking police official told Reuters on Wednesday.

"Survivors we talked to said the mother was not among the bodies recovered," he added.

a heartbreaking photo of dead baby during a rescue operation…— Tamer Yazar (@tameryazar)May 31, 2016

There were discrepancies among the survivors as to the boy's name, which remains a mystery, he said.

Police arrested two survivors of the shipwreck, a Syrian and a Moroccan, and accused them of disaster at sea and international people smuggling, according to a statement. A third man from Sudan, who is thought to have been the captain of the vessel, drowned, 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.

Related: At Least 700 Migrants Died in the Mediterranean Trying to Get to Europe Last Week

As Europe's worst migration crisis since World War II continues, more than 2,500 people are thought to have died this year after being packed into rickety boats by traffickers. Last week alone 700 migrants may have died at sea, in the busiest week of migrant crossings from Libya towards Italy this year, according to figures released by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the UN Refugee agency.

A group of 113 mostly Afghan migrants has landed on Greece's biggest island Crete, officials said on Wednesday, the first big arrival on the island since the migrant crisis began.

Crete, Greece's southernmost island, lies north of Libya and Egypt. The migrants said they had set off from Antalya on Turkey's southwestern coast, some 260 nautical miles away, police and coastguard officials said.

Warm weather and calmer seas in the Mediterranean have led to a surge in recent weeks in the number of people trying to cross to Italy from Libya, where people-smugglers operate with relative impunity. However, with the much longer journey, there is more chance of boats being blown off course to islands such as Crete, a Greek coastguard official on the island said.

"We fear that when boats start filling up and they sail north or south of the island, accidents may cause them to wash ashore on Crete whereas their aim is to reach Italy," Commander Spyros Aggelakis told Reuters.

Related: Greek Police Begin Evacuation of Thousands of Migrants from Idomeni

The 113 were discovered on a beach northeast of the island on Tuesday after their boat ran aground near the coast, police said. Two suspected smugglers from Croatia and Montenegro traveling with the group were also arrested. A separate group of 64 migrants and refugees, among them 17 children, landed on Crete last Friday.

More than a million migrants and refugees from Syria and beyond arrived in Greece from Turkey in the past year, most taking the shorter journey on dinghies to Lesbos just few miles away. That became less attractive after a European Union deal with Turkey to halt the flow which sees all undocumented migrants and refugees arriving in Greece sent back to Turkey if their asylum applications are rejected.

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