ROME — Pope Francis on Sunday decried as shameful the deaths of 130 migrants in the Mediterranean, saying they pleaded for two days for help for their overcrowded, foundering rubber dinghy in the sea off Libya but potential rescuers choose “to look the other way.”
Francis called the sea tragedy last week “a moment of shame.”
The migrants had made a call for help on Wednesday. On Thursday, when a humanitarian rescue boat and a merchant ship sailing in very rough waters arrived at the scene, the deflating dinghy had partially sunk, several bodies were seen in the water and no survivors were found. Rescue centers in Libya, Malta and Italy had been alerted, according to the European Union border protection agency Frontex, whose plane had located the dinghy.
“I confess to you I am very pained by the tragedy that once again played out in the last days in the Mediterranean,” the pope told people in St. Peter’s Square who gathered to hear his traditional Sunday noon remarks.
“One hundred and thirty migrants died in the sea. They are persons, human lives, who for two entire days implored in vain for help, help that didn’t arrive,” Francis said.
“Let us pray for these brothers and sisters, let us interrogate all of ourselves about this latest tragedy,” the pope said. “It is a moment of shame.”
”Let us pray also for those who can help but who prefer to look the other way,” the pope added.
SOS Mediterranee, a humanitarian group whose rescue ship Ocean Viking sailed toward the distressed dinghy amid strong winds and high waves, said a Libyan coast guard vessel was supposed to arrive at the scene but never did.
Libyan coast guard officials have said bad weather and the need to help other migrants in distress off the coast of the North African country meant it couldn’t reach the dinghy in time.
Human traffickers based in Libya continuously launch unseaworthy dinghies and small fishing boats filled with migrants hoping to reach European shores for a better life.
A few hours after the pope’s denunciation, the Italian coast guard said with a help of a container ship it aided an ailing motorized fishing boat filled with migrants that was struggling in towering waves and stiff winds.
The vessel, which had at least 100 people aboard including children, was spotted Saturday, it said. After the boat’s motor quit working it was at risk of overturning in the waves. Coast guard motorboats towed it and it arrived Sunday at a port in Calabria, southern Italy.