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60 migrants feared drowned crossing Mediterranean from Libya

March 14, 2024 at 4:11 pm

194 migrants of different nationalities, 50 of which are unaccompanied, departed from Tunisia are rescued by the Spanish NGO Open Arms near Lampedusa, Italy on August 03, 2023. Italy had witnessed a sharp increase in sea arrivals, nearly 92.000 migrants in 2023, mainly departing from ports in Tunisia and Libya. [Valeria Ferraro – Anadolu Agency]

As many as 60 people are feared to have drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy or Malta, the operators of a charity rescue group said on Thursday.

According to Reuters, SOS Mediterranee said that it rescued 25 people in a “very weak” condition in coordination with the Italian Coast Guard on Wednesday. Two unconscious people were flown to Sicily by helicopter.

The central Mediterranean is one of the world’s deadliest migration routes. According to the UN migration agency (IOM), almost 2,500 migrants died or went missing attempting the crossing last year, and the number since the start of 2024 already stands at 226.

“The survivors departed from Zawiya, Libya, seven days before they were rescued,” said SOS Mediterranee on X. “Their engine broke after three days, leaving their boat lost [and] adrift without water and food for days. Survivors report that at least 60 people perished on the way, including women and at least one child.”

There was no immediate comment from the Italian Coastguard. The IOM, however, said that it was “deeply troubled” by the report. “Urgent action is needed to strengthen maritime patrols and prevent further tragedies,” the UN agency said on X.

SOS Mediterranee added that its Ocean Viking rescue vessel had evacuated 25 people who were on a rubber boat drifting in the Libyan search and rescue area. The charity said that it picked up a further 113 people, including two children, from a wooden boat and 88 from a packed rubber dingy, in rescue operations on Wednesday and Thursday.

It pointed out that Ocean Viking had been instructed to sail to the Italian Adriatic port of Ancona, about 1,500 km (930 miles) away, but had asked for a closer disembarkation port given the poor condition of the migrants, some of whom needed oxygen masks.

Charities like SOS Mediterranee complain that Italy’s right-wing government is obstructing their rescue activities, forcing them to travel to distant ports to disembark migrants and often temporarily impounding their ships.

Italy and other European Union governments are trying to curb the number of migrants making the crossing from North Africa, and have offered money or equipment to Libya and Tunisia to stop departures from their respective territories.

Data from the Italian Interior Ministry shows that 5,968 migrants have arrived by sea so far this year, down from 19,937 at the same stage in 2023.

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