Three refugee boat tragedies in one week

7 Days in Dubai - - GLOBAL NEWS -

More than 700 mi­grants are feared dead in three Mediter­ranean Sea ship­wrecks south of Italy in re­cent few days as they tried des­per­ately to reach Europe in un­sea­wor­thy smug­gling boats, the UN refugee agency has said.

The ship­wrecks ap­pear to ac­count for the largest loss of life re­ported in the Mediter­ranean since April 2015, when a sin­gle ship sank with an es­ti­mated 800 peo­ple trapped in­side.

Car­lotta Sami, spokes­woman for UNHCR, said an es­ti­mated 100 peo­ple are miss­ing from a smug­glers’ boat that cap­sized on Wed­nes­day off the coast of Libya. The Ital­ian navy took hor­rific pic­tures of that cap­siz­ing even as it rushed to res­cue as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble from the sea.

Sami said about 550 other mi­grants and refugees are miss­ing from a smug­gling boat that cap­sized on Thurs­day morn­ing af­ter leav­ing the western Libyan port of Sabratha a day ear­lier.

Refugees who saw that boat sink told her agency it was car­ry­ing about 670 eo­ple, didn’t have an en­gine and was be­ing towed by an­other packed smug­gling boat be­fore it cap­sized. She said about 25 peo­ple from the cap­sized boat man­aged to reach the first boat and sur­vive, 79 oth­ers were res­cued by in­ter­na­tional pa­trol boats and 15 bod­ies were re­cov­ered.

Ital­ian po­lice said sur­vivors iden­ti­fied the com­man­der of the boat with the work­ing en­gine as a 28-year-old Su­danese man, who has been ar­rested.

In a third ship­wreck on Fri­day, Sami said 135 peo­ple were res­cued, 45 bod­ies were re­cov­ered and an un­known num­ber of mi­grants were still miss­ing.

Be­cause the bod­ies went miss­ing in the open sea, it is im­pos­si­ble to ver­ify the num­bers who died. Hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tions and res­cue author­i­ties typ­i­cally rely on sur­vivors’ ac­counts to piece to­gether what hap­pened.

Ital­ian po­lice cor­rob­o­rated the UNHCR de­scrip­tion of Thurs­day’s sink­ing in their own in­ter­views with sur­vivors, but came up with dif­fer­ent num­bers of miss­ing.

They say, ac­cord­ing to sur­vivors, the boat be­ing towed was car­ry­ing about 500 mi­grants when it start­ing tak­ing on water af­ter about eight hours at sea. Ef­forts to empty the water - with a line of mi­grants pass­ing a few five-litre bail­ing cans - were in­suf­fi­cient and the boat was com­pletely un­der water af­ter an hour and a half, po­lice said. At that point, the com­man­der of the first smug­gling boat do­ing the tow­ing or­dered the tow rope to be cut.

Italy’s south­ern is­lands are the main des­ti­na­tions for count­less num­bers of smug­gling boats launched from the shores of Libya each week.

RES­CUED: Crews tow ship­wrecked mi­grants to safety

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