Migrant relatives mourn victims of deadly Italian shipwreck

FILE PHOTO: Aftermath of deadly migrant shipwreck near southern Italian coast

By Angelo Amante

CROTONE, Italy (Reuters) - Relatives of victims of a migrant boat that broke up in stormy seas off Italy arrived in the southern city of Crotone on Tuesday to mourn the dead, who lay in coffins in a sports hall, with flowers and candles adorning metal railings outside the building.

Police asked some of the relatives to officially identify the bodies of their loved ones, as searches for victims continued around the nearby beach of Steccato di Cutro, where the wooden vessel sank early on Sunday.

"The police have shown us the pictures, and they said: 'It's your family?', and we should give an answer, yes or no," said Alan, a man of Afghan origin who had travelled to Crotone from the German city of Gelsenkirchen.

Alan's aunt was found dead, along with three of her children. A fourth child was still missing, while her husband survived the incident.

"It has happened, I saw my aunt and two daughters," said Alan, breaking down in tears as he spoke outside the Palamilone sports hall.

The shipwreck left at least 64 dead while 80 people have survived, but police believe up to 200 migrants could have been onboard the boat, which had set sail to Italy from Turkey.

Rescuers said most of the migrants came from Afghanistan, with the others from countries including Iran and Syria.

Nabi Nabizada, 28, of Afghan origin, travelled from Amsterdam to Crotone to find out what had happened to his aunt, uncle and their three children, two boys and a girl, pictures of whom he showed from his phone.

He said he had received a phone call from someone in Afghanistan on Monday, the day after the incident.

"I don’t know if they are alive or they are not … I have to find them," he said.

Police have said that patrol boats were sent to intercept the migrants, but severe weather forced them to return to port. Some relatives questioned whether rescuers had done enough to pick up those on board and if they had arrived too late.

"Because they have black hair, or they don't have green or blue eyes, they didn't rescue those people?" asked Teymoori Mohammad, Alan's cousin.

"Because they have black eyes, or black hair? Weren't they human?," he added.

(This story has been refiled to change the word to "incident" from "crash" in paragraph 9)

(Reporting by Gabriele Pileri and Angelo Amante; writing by Angelo Amante; editing by Keith Weir and Bernadette Baum)