At least 130 migrants fear they could be drowned in the Mediterranean as a boat capsized, bodies found


MILAN, April 23 (Reuters) – Merchant ships and a charity ship searching the Mediterranean for boats carrying migrants have found 10 bodies floating near an overturned rubber dinghy believed to have carried 130 people on board, the report said. French humanitarian organization SOS Méditerranée.

Another wooden boat was still missing with around 40 migrants on board, a spokesman for the group said on Friday.

The civilian Alarm Phone hotline reported on Wednesday that three boats were in distress, prompting SOS Méditerranée to launch a search “in very rough seas, with waves up to 6 meters”, the non-governmental organization said in a statement. published earlier.

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Three merchant vessels helped the charity Ocean Viking’s rescue vessel search for the boats in international waters northeast of the Libyan city of Tripoli.

SOS Méditerranée said the merchant vessel MY ROSE found three bodies in the water and a plane from the EU border agency Frontex spotted the dinghy shortly afterwards.

When the Ocean Viking arrived on the scene, it found no survivors, but there were ten bodies in the water nearby. The statement posted on Twitter included a photograph of a capsized black rubber dinghy.

An inflatable boat is seen after capsizing with more than 100 migrants on board, during a search and rescue (SAR) operation in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Libya, April 22, 2021. Flavio Gasperini/Sos Mediterranee /Handout via REUTERS

A spokesperson for the NGO said it had no information on the third boat which Alarm Phone said was in distress.

Libya, divided by civil conflict for years, is a major route for migrants seeking to reach Europe.

The UN’s International Organization for Migration said the latest deaths would bring the tally on the central Mediterranean route to nearly 500 people this year, more than triple the toll for the same period of 2020.

“States resisted and refused to act to save the lives of over 100 people,” said IOM’s Safa Msehli. “Let it be clear that it is the responsibility of the State to respond to distress calls at sea,” she added.

United Nations agencies have called for reactivating state-led search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean and halting the return of migrants to “unsafe ports”.

The IOM said in a report in late March that last year more than 2,200 people died at sea.

The true toll is likely much higher, as aid groups have reported at least five ‘invisible shipwrecks’ which have never been confirmed as they left no survivors.

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Reporting by Maria Pia Quaglia, editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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