Hundreds of migrants believed to have drowned off Libya after boat capsizes
Italy’s coastguard helps rescue 144 in latest disaster involving migrants at sea
Damien Gayle and agencies
Wednesday 15 April 2015 09.00 BST
As many as 400 migrants fleeing Libya are feared to have drowned after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean, survivors told an aid organisation.
Italy’s coastguard had helped to rescue 144 people on Monday, but said it believed there were many more who had drowned given the size of the vessel and that nine bodies had been found.
As an air and sea search continued, survivors were brought into the port at Reggio Calabria, on Italy’s southern tip, where they told Save the Children aid workers there may have been 400 others who drowned in the disaster.
The UN refugee agency said the death toll was likely given the size of the ship. “There were 400 victims in this shipwreck, which occurred 24 hours after [their vessel] left the Libyan coast,” Save the Children said in a statement, citing survivors.
“There were several young males, probably minors, among the victims” and also children among those rescued, it added.
Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration in Italy, told Agence France-Presse several of the survivors had told his organisation there were between 500 and 550 people on board when the ship sank.
“We are continuing to investigate in order to understand how the shipwreck happened,” Di Giacomo said.
Initial investigations indicate the boat may have capsized after passengers started moving when they saw the Italian rescue team, AFP reported.
The deaths, if confirmed, would add to the soaring numbers of migrants lost at sea: the IOM estimates that up to 3,072 migrants died in the Mediterranean in 2014, compared with an estimate of 700 in 2013. But even those figures could be low. The IOM estimates that since 2000 more than 22,000 migrants have lost their lives trying to reach Europe.
The latest tragedy came as Italian authorities said about 8,500 migrants had been rescued at sea between Friday and Monday, reigniting a debate in Italy about whether the country has a duty to house all new arrivals. ##
Rescued migrants disembark from an Italian coastguard ship in the harbour of Palermo, Sicily. Photograph: Alessandro Fucarini/AP
Received on Wed Apr 15 2015 - 06:03:56 EDT