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Sixty migrants feared drowned crossing Mediterranean from Libya

Rome, Italy

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

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

A migrant gestures on the Geo Barents migrant rescue ship, operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), as it makes its way to Italy after the rescue of 61 migrants on a wooden boat in international waters off the coast of Libya in the central Mediterranean Sea, on 30th September, 2023. PICTURE: Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File photo

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 226 since the start of 2024.

“The survivors departed from Zawiya, Libya, seven days before they were rescued,” SOS Mediterranee posted on the social media platform 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,” it added.

There was no immediate comment from the Italian Coastguard.

The IOM said it was “deeply troubled” by the report.

“Urgent action is needed to strengthen maritime patrols and prevent further tragedies,” it said on X.

In a post on X on Wednesday, the SOS Mediterranee said its Ocean Viking vessel had evacuated 25 people spotted using binoculars who were on a rubber boat drifting in the Libyan search and rescue area.

The charity said 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.

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It said it 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 are on oxygen masks.

Charity groups like SOS Mediterranee and others 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 sea migrants making the crossing from North Africa, and have offered money or equipment to Libya and Tunisia to stop departures from their shores.

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

– Additional reporting by ALVISE ARMELLINI


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