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At least 43 dead after shipwreck off Libya coast

A Libyan helicopter over as refugees wait to get on onboard the rescue vessel Golfo Azzurro by members of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, after being rescued from a wooden boat sailing out of control in the Mediterranean Sea near Libya on Thursday, 15 June, 2017 [Marcus Drinkwater/Anadolu Agency]
A Libyan helicopter hovers over as refugees wait to get on onboard the rescue vessel in the Mediterranean Sea on 15 June 2017 [Marcus Drinkwater/Anadolu Agency]

At least 43 were killed on Tuesday after a boat carrying migrants capsized off the Libyan coast.

The boat ran into trouble when its engine stopped because of poor weather conditions just a few hours after leaving the Libyan city of Zawra early on Tuesday morning.

Ten passengers survived the shipwreck and were rescued and brought to shore by Coastal Security in Zwara.

There, the men, who were primarily from the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, and The Gambia, received emergency assistance from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) staff.

The 43 dead were also mainly men of West African origin, the United Nations (UN) reported.

A joint statement by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and IOM said the tragedy was the first shipwreck of 2021 in the Central Mediterranean, adding that the UN agencies were "deeply saddened" by the tragic event.

Nearly 1,000 migrants died in similar incidents in 2020, but the UN warned that the true number of deaths could be much higher due to the limited ability to monitor routes.

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In November, at least 74 migrants died after the boat carrying them across the Mediterranean was shipwrecked.

While in September, 17 Egyptians from the village of Dahmasha in Sharkia Governorate drowned off the coast of Libya when their boat capsized.

In response to the latest shipwreck, the IOM and UNHCR reiterated their call for state-led search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean to restart.

The operations, the agencies said, should stop returning migrants to unsafe ports, and establish a safe, continent-wide effort to help countries receiving high numbers of arrivals.

A spokesperson for Alarm Phone, a hotline for refugees in distress at sea, also said state-led operations should be resumed, the Guardian reported.

"This loss of life highlights once more the need for the reactivation of state-led search and rescue operations, a gap NGO and commercial vessels are trying to fill despite their limited resources," a statement from Alarm Phone said.

The organisation also told the Guardian the latest deaths were the result of European border policy and the detention of NGO rescue boats, which has prevented rescuers from operating in the Mediterranean.

Six NGO ships are currently unable to operate, Alarm Phone said, while only one NGO, SOS Méditerranée, is allowed to carry out search and rescue missions.

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