LAMPEDUSA, Italy (CNN) -- Hope faded Saturday that more survivors would be found two days after a boat packed with African migrants sank half a mile off Italy's Lampedusa island, killing at least 111 people.
Some 155 survivors were pulled from the water after the boat capsized Thursday morning. But rescue teams said Saturday they had given up hope of finding more.
More than 200 bodies may lie inside the vessel on the sea bed, some 47 meters (150 feet) below the surface of the Mediterranean, Italian authorities said.
Gusty winds and rough waters prevented divers from reaching the wreckage to carry on the recovery operation on Saturday, but they were not giving up.
"We will continue all day and all night until we are able to bury these bodies," said Adm. Felicio Angrisano of the coast guard.
One diver who did reach the wreck reported seeing dozens of corpses wedged in its lower deck.
Survivors mourn those lost
The U.N. refugee agency said Friday that one of the survivors was Tunisian and the others were from Eritrea, in the Horn of Africa. The boat is also believed to have been carrying migrants from Somalia.
A private memorial service was to be held Saturday at the island's airport, where the bodies were stored. Some of the survivors -- who have been held in Lampedusa's migrant detention center since they were rescued -- were to attend.
A delegation of Italian lawmakers, headed by the president of the Italian parliament, Laura Boldrini, met Saturday with survivors at the cramped quarters of the detention center, which was built to hold 250 people but houses more than 1,200.
After visiting the detention center, the lawmakers held a news conference in city hall, where some residents accused them of having left the island to carry the burden of coping with a constant flow of newly arriving migrants.
Because of its location as the Italian island that is closest to Africa, Lampedusa is a common destination for African refugees seeking to enter European Union countries, and shipwrecks off its shores are common.
An ill-fated journey
One lawmaker cited survivors' accounts in estimating that 518 migrants were on the boat when it capsized.
The lawmaker, Mario Marazziti, gave this account of the voyage:
The migrants had been ordered to leave their cell phones on shore when they departed Libya en route to Italy.
As they approached Lampedusa at dawn on Thursday, they switched off the engine and hoped that someone would rescue them. In the distance, they saw a fishing boat, but it didn't stop -- its occupants may not have seen them.
The migrants, hoping to increase their chances of being spotted, then set fire to a blanket. But the fire spread and, when many of the migrants crowded to one side, the boat capsized.
'It was just my duty'
Two fishing boats were the first to reach the site.
Lampedusa fisherman Domenico Colapinto told CNN on Friday that he spotted people in the water soon after 7 a.m. as he was returning from a night at sea. He pulled 20 people on board his boat -- two of them dead.
"It was very difficult to get them out because they were covered in gasoline, they were nearly naked and slippery," he said. "Then they just hugged me and said, 'Thank you, thank you.'"
Colapinto, who injured his arm pulling a woman to safety, said it had been his duty to try to save as many people as possible.
"I don't feel a hero or anything; it was just my duty," he said. "I'm sorry that they were slippery, otherwise we would have been quicker."
Mayor: No delay by coast guard
Italian authorities are investigating why they were not alerted sooner to the predicament of those aboard the boat.
One of the fishermen who said he helped rescue scores from the waters said the coast guard's rescue effort was badly handled.
"We would have saved more people but they refused to take the people away from the boat and let me carry on saving others," said Vito Fiorino. "They refused to do it because it wasn't the right protocol. I had to say to them: 'I am going to port now with these people, you do what you need to,' and that is what I did."
The coast guard defended its actions. "The moment we got the emergency call from the fishermen at 7 a.m. we immediately intervened and started coordinating the rescue operations," said Filippo Marini, Coastal Guard spokesman. "We said to the fishermen to continue saving the migrants. When our boats got on site, we started directly saving the other migrants. It would have been a loss of time to transfer the migrants from the fishermen boat to our boat, while there were more migrants still at sea that needed to be rescued."
Despite the dangers, thousands of migrants and asylum seekers depart North Africa's shores every year in search of a better life.
Nearly 115 kilometers (70 miles) from Tunisia, Lampedusa has been the point of entry to Europe for more than 200,000 refugees and irregular migrants who have passed through the island since 1999.
According to the U.N. refugee agency, some 15,000 migrants and asylum-seekers reached Italy and Malta last year; nearly 500 others were reported dead or missing at sea.
In the first six months of 2013, the agency recorded 40 deaths -- a figure based on interviews with survivors of the crossing.
The latest deaths -- described by the coast guard as four children, 49 women and 58 men -- will ensure that the toll tallied during the second half of the year will eclipse that figure.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said the incident "should serve as a wake-up call" to the world. It shows how important it is for refugees "to have legal channels to access territories where they can find protection," he said.
Maurizio Albahari, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, called for Europe to enact policies to avert such incidents rather than to simply shed tears for the dead or to blame the traffickers.
"To solve the problem, it is vital to understand what it is that routinely brings thousands of migrants to trust smugglers, face exorbitant costs and risk their lives on unseaworthy vessels," he said. "It's quite simple. It is legally impossible for them to travel safely on planes and ferries."
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2013 WorldNow and KIII. All Rights Reserved.