LAMPEDUSA, Italy — The friends were heading out on a fishing trip, when one heard voices from the sea.
Don’t be silly, Vito Fiorino told him — it’s only the seagulls’ early morning song. Then, about 500 yards from shore, he saw heads bobbing in the water.
Dozens of Africans were floating, too weak to grab a life preserver and so slippery from gasoline that it was hard to pull them on board. Some grasped empty water bottles to stay afloat.
“It was a scene from a film, something you hope never to see in life,” he told The Associated Press. “They were exhausted. When I threw the lifesaver, they had a hard time doing two strokes to reach it.”
Fiorino said he and his friends were the first to reach the fiery wreck around 7 a.m. Thursday, sounding the alarm and saving 47 people before the coast guard and other vessels arrived to help, eventually rescuing a total of 155 people. The migrants told Fiorino they had been in the water for three hours.
The scope of the tragedy at Lampedusa — with 111 bodies recovered so far and more than 200 missing, according to survivor accounts given to U.N. officials — has prompted outpourings of grief and calls for a comprehensive EU immigration policy to deal with the tens of thousands fleeing poverty and strife in Africa and the Middle East.