CAIRO — More than 100 migrants heading for Europe are believed to have died in a shipwreck off Libya, independent rescue groups have said, in the latest loss of life as attempts to cross the Mediterranean increase for months the hottest.
The Libyan Coast Guard searched for the boat but could not find it due to limited resources, a service official said.
The humanitarian group SOS Méditerranée, which operates the rescue vessel Ocean Viking, said on Thursday evening that the capsized dinghy, which was initially carrying around 130 people, had been spotted in the Mediterranean, northeast of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. The ship found no survivors, but aid workers were able to see at least 10 bodies near the wreckage.
“We think of the lives that were lost and the families that may never know for sure what happened to their loved ones,” the group said in a statement.
The smuggling of migrants has raised questions among European Union countries and in Libya about who is responsible for rescuing those in peril at sea.
SOS Méditerranée said it expects those missing to have died, adding to the toll of 350 people who have drowned at sea so far this year. He accused governments of failing to ensure search and rescue operations.
In the years following the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed Libya’s longtime leader Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi, the war-torn country has become the main transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. Smugglers often pack desperate families onto ill-equipped dinghies that stall and sink along the perilous central Mediterranean route.
Eugenio Ambrosi, chief of staff of the International Organization for Migration, said in a tweet“These are the human consequences of policies that do not respect international law and the most basic humanitarian imperatives.”
AlarmPhone, which provides a crisis hotline for migrants in distress in the Mediterranean, said it was in contact with the stricken boat for almost 10 hours before it capsized.
A Libyan Coast Guard spokesman, Cmdr. Masoud Ibrahim Masoud, said the service searched the sea for more than 24 hours, adding that “the waves were very rough”.
Mr Masoud said the coastguard received rescue alerts from two different dinghies in distress east of Tripoli around noon on Wednesday. A patrol boat was immediately dispatched and rescued 106 migrants, including women and children, who were on board one of the two boats.
Two bodies were also pulled from the water near the capsized vessel. He said the coastguard ship eventually returned to port so the rescued migrants could receive medical treatment.
In the meantime, he said, Libyan authorities have asked three merchant ships and the Ocean Viking to search for the other missing boat, until the Libyan patrol boat can reach them.
In recent years, the European Union has partnered with the Libyan Coast Guard and other local groups to stem these dangerous sea crossings. Rights groups, however, say these policies leave migrants at the mercy of armed groups or confined to squalid detention centers prone to abuse.