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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 January, 2004, 01:04 GMT
Albania mourns smuggled migrants

By David Willey
BBC Rome correspondent

Albania has declared a day of mourning after at least 20 people drowned or died of exposure in an accident at sea while trying to reach Italy illegally.

A survivor is taken to Tirana hospital
Eleven of those on the powerboat were rescued

The tragedy occurred when the outboard motors of the powerboat in which they were being smuggled across the Adriatic sea broke down at night.

An SOS was received from one of the passengers on the waterlogged boat by an Albanian television station.

The message was relayed to the Italian navy, which rescued 11 survivors.

The Italians are permanently stationed at the Albanian port of Durres in order to deter people-smuggling.

Attempts by Italian navy helicopters and coastguards to locate the boat at night failed because of bad weather.

But early on Saturday, 11 survivors were found still alive in the waterlogged boat, together with the bodies of 17 men and three women who had drowned or died of exposure in freezing temperatures.

On the rise

The Albanian authorities have arrested two of the people-smugglers travelling on the boat, together with three other local officials in connection with the tragedy.

These included two senior police officers and a port official who, the Albanian authorities said, had purchased the speedboat in Italy recently and were running a racket, smuggling Albanians into the EU via Italy.

The victims had each paid more than 2,000 euros to the smugglers for the sea passage, which in a fast boat takes only three hours.

The Italians say the number of illegal immigrants arriving from Albania has decreased considerably since their navy has been patrolling the Albanian coast to intercept people-smugglers.

The BBC's David Chazan
"They died less than ten kilometres from their own shore"

Crackdown on human traffickers
04 Feb 01  |  Europe
Country profile: Albania
30 Sep 03  |  Country profiles

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