Search resumes for victims of Albanian shipwreck
March 31, 1997
Web posted at: 12:11 p.m. EST (1711 GMT)
In this story:
ROME (CNN) -- Rescue teams resumed their search Monday for
survivors and victims of a shipwreck that killed at least
four Albanian refugees trying to reach Italy.
Albanian President Sali Berisha proclaimed Monday a national
day of mourning for those who died when the 20-meter boat
collided with an Italian warship and sank in the Adriatic
In Albania's rebel-held southern territories, rallies
denounced both Italy for the tragedy and Berisha, already the
target of weeks of protests. In the capital of Tirana,
residents built makeshift memorials to remember the dead.
The incident has enflamed tensions between Italy and Albania
and sparked concerns about an imminent Italian-led security
mission into chaotic Albania.
Thousands of refugees have fled the country in recent weeks,
seeking to escape fighting and protests that began over
failed investment schemes that cost many Albanians thousands
of dollars. Italy is to lead an international force to
Albania within two weeks to ensure the safe delivery of
About 13,000 Albanians have crossed the Adriatic to Italy in
recent weeks. The Italian navy was ordered to patrol the
area and dissuade the refugees from coming to Italy.
Albanian officials claimed that 83 people were still missing
after Friday's collision, but Italian authorities say the
number is likely to be smaller. Four bodies have been
recovered so far, and 34 people have been rescued.
Survivors accused the Italian boat of intentionally ramming
the refugees' craft, but Italian authorities said the
Albanian boat's captain rammed the warship while trying to
evade its attempts to turn it back to Albania.
"The women and children who have perished, lying at the
bottom of the sea ... I would like to know what's happened.
It's such a terrible thing," said one survivor, Vicktor
Authorities in the southern Italian port of Brindisi,
reception point for most of the Albanian refugees, said they
had begun an investigation of the navy ship's captain. Police
arrested the captain of the Albanian boat, officials said.
Italian opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi flew to Brindisi
after the incident, calling for an end to the Italian navy's
attempts to stop the flood of refugees.
"There's no international law that allows a state to stop or
interfere with boats carrying civilians, women and children
in international waters," he said after visiting with the
But Italian Junior Foreign Minister Piero Fassino dismissed
Berlusconi's remarks as exploitation of a tragedy.
"What happened in the Straits of Otranto cannot hide the fact
that Italy has given shelter in a civilized fashion to almost
13,000 Albanians in the last few days," he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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