(ANSA) - ROME, OCT 3 - (by Laura Clarke) The Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Tuesday paused to mark the anniversary of the shipwreck of October 3, 2013 in which 368 people, mostly Eritrean refugees, lost their lives.
The commemorations began at 3.15 am, the time at which the fishing boat carrying over 500 people that had set sail from Misurata in Libya two days previously caught fire and sank just a few hundred meters from shore.
Shipwreck survivors and relatives of the victims joined representatives of the Comitato 3 Ottobre, which pushed to have October 3 recognised in Italy as the national day of remembrance and reception and each year organises a three-day awareness raising event for students on Lampedusa culminating in the official commemorations on the anniversary itself, and Vito Fiorino, the now 74-year-old carpenter and amateur fisherman who was the first person to intervene after the tragedy and managed to pull 47 desperate people out of the water alive, for a moment of reflection and remembrance at the New Hope memorial in the centre of town.
They were then joined by over 200 students from Italy and Europe, representatives of the national and local authorities, international organisations and civil society and islanders for a procession to the Porta d'Europa (Gateway to Europe) monument, inaugurated in June 2008 on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea near the harbour to honour the over 28,000 people who have lost their lives in the Mediterranean - of whom over 22,300 along the central Mediterranean route from north Africa to Italy - since 2013 in the attempt to find safety and better opportunities in Europe.
Here, Archbishop of Agrigento Monsignor Alessandro Damiano and Catania Imam Kheit Abdelhafid led a moment of inter-religious prayer, followed by the reading of the names of the shipwreck victims to the haunting notes of the late Sicilian singer-songwriter Franco Battiato's La Cura, sung by students.
Participants were then invited to throw flowers into the sea in a gesture of remembrance before heading to the commercial port to join the coast guard and finance police for a wreath-throwing ceremony at the spot near Lampedusa's Rabbit Island where the shipwreck took place exactly ten years ago.
"I want to extend a special welcome to the students present," said Lampedusa Mayor Filippo Mannino during the ceremony at the Porta d'Europa monument.
"Now you have the difficult task of going back home and telling your friends and families, your schoolmates and your local administrators what happens here on Lampedusa, how Lampedusa continues to provide a lesson in humanity to Italy and the rest of Europe," he continued.
"And we want people to arrive alive." The commemorations came after what have been a difficult few months for Lampedusa, which has borne the brunt of the nearly 100% increase in sea arrivals to Italy so far in 2023 compared to the same period last year.
Of the 134,162 sea arrivals as of October 2, approximately 70% have landed on Italy's southernmost landmass, creating significant operational and logistical difficulties for an island that has a surface area of just 20 square kilometres, an official resident population of around 6,000 people and an economy mainly based on tourism.
These difficulties have been largely overcome by reorganising the local first reception centre at Contrada Imbriacola, just outside the town, which under the new Italian Red Cross management can now manage to accommodate hundreds of people at a time for short periods, and ensuring the systematic and swift transfer of new arrivals off the island to reception facilities elsewhere.
And so while the over 200 students who had flown into Lampedusa from all over Europe were engaged in activities aimed at promoting a culture of solidarity, activism and respect for human rights, tourists continued to throng the town centre and enjoy pleasure-boat trips around the island and Lampedusans went about their ordinary daily business, the activities of search and rescue, disembarkation and transfers went on almost imperceptibly, like a well-oiled machine.
Even on Tuesday morning as the memorial procession set off from Piazza Castello overlooking the busy port and marina in the direction of the Porta d'Europa, a disembarkation could be seen underway at the Favaloro quay on the far side of the harbour.
Only the discovery on Sunday of a body without arms or a head and in an advanced state of saponification in waters off the rocky Punta Alaimo on the north side of the island provided a stark reminder of the immense human tragedy that continues to play out here even after all these years.
But even this Lampedusa seemed to take in its stride. (ANSA).
A crowd including survivors of the 2013 shipwrecks march in Lampedusa, holding a banner that reads: ‘Stop invisible deaths’ [Illary Palmisano/Al Jazeera]
Survivors and relatives of the victims shed tears and embrace as they mark 10 years since two tragic shipwrecks in Lampedusa [Illary Palmisano/Al Jazeera]
Flowers are tossed in the sea in a sign of mourning at Lampedusa’s ‘Gate of Europe’ [Illary Palmisano/Al Jazeera]
Survivors hold banners to remember the victims of similar tragedies that have occured time and again over the past 10 years. The IOM says at least 28,105 people have died since 2014 [Illary Palmisano/Al Jazeera]