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February Migrant Shipwreck Toll Keeps Climbing

FILE: Flowers are left where the wreckage of a capsized boat washed ashore at a beach near Cutro, southern Italy, March 9, 2023. At least 86 people died in the February 26 shipwreck on Italy's Calabrian coast.

ROME - At least 86 people died in a migrant shipwreck off southern Italy last month, with more than a dozen still missing, a local mayor said Wednesday.

"This morning, five other bodies were found: two men, a woman and two children, aged three and eight or nine years old," said Antonio Ceraso, mayor of the town of Cutro.

This brought the toll from the February 26 tragedy to 86, he told a press conference, adding, "at least 14, 15 are missing."

Searches were ongoing but "we hope that some survived and disappeared from the scene of the shipwreck."

The boat set off from Turkey with an estimated 175 people on board, the mayor said, including Afghan, Iranian, Pakistani and Syrian nationals.

It went down just meters from the coast of Calabria before dawn, with bodies and debris washing up along the beach for days.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's government has rejected accusations that authorities were too slow to help the boat.

Her far-right Brothers of Italy party won elections in September on a pledge to reduce the tens of thousands of migrants who arrive on Italy's shores each year.

Most set off from North Africa in the hope of a new life in Europe, but many perish, making the Central Mediterranean the world's most dangerous crossing.

In the latest incident, Italy's coastguard on Sunday reported 30 migrants were missing and presumed drowned after their boat capsized off the coast of Libya.