Sunday 25 September 2016

Hundreds feared drowned after migrant boat capsizes in Mediterranean

Ed Carty & Independent.ie Newsdesk

Published 05/08/2015 | 15:47

Mohamed (2nd L) and his family receives support on board the MSF Dignity I search and rescue vessel after their wooden boat capsized and sank in the Mediterranean 05 August. Credit: MSF
Mohamed (2nd L) and his family receives support on board the MSF Dignity I search and rescue vessel after their wooden boat capsized and sank in the Mediterranean 05 August. Credit: MSF
A man from Bangladesh stabilised by the MSF team onboard of Dignity I after being rescued at sea following the capsizing of the boat he was in waits to be transferred to Italy for further medical attention. Credit: MSF
MSF Field coordinator Juan and first officer Porfirio follow the rescue operation involving ships and sea rescue helicopters scanning the area to spot survivors in the water 05 August. A boat carrying migrants had capsized and sank with many feared drowned. Credit: MSF
Credit: MSF
A man from Bangladesh stabilised by the MSF team onboard of Dignity I after being rescued at sea following the capsizing of the boat he was in waits to be transferred to Italy for further medical attention. Credit: MSF
Credit: MSF
A zodiac crew from MSF's Dignity I Search and Rescue vessel scan the sea for survivors in the area where a wooden boat carrying migrants capsized and sank earlier. (Photo: Marta Soszynska/MSF)
The MSF medical team on board the Dignity I search and rescue vessel provides first aid to a Bangladeshi man with an open fracture of his leg who was earlier rescued from the sea water after the boat he was in with other migrants capsized and sank in the Mediterranean 05 August. (Photo: Marta Soszynska/MSF)
Mohamed (R) from Palestine rescued his one-year-old daughter Azeel when the boat he and his family were in with other migrants capsized in the Mediterranean 05 August. (Photo: Marta Soszynska/MSF)
A zodiac crew from MSF's Dignity I Search and Rescue vessel scan the sea for survivors in the area where a wooden boat carrying migrants capsized and sank earlier. (Photo: Marta Soszynska/MSF)
The MSF medical team on board the Dignity I search and rescue vessel provides first aid to a Bangladeshi man with an open fracture of his leg who was earlier rescued from the sea water after the boat he was in with other migrants capsized and sank in the Mediterranean 05 August. (Photo: Marta Soszynska/MSF)
MSF Field coordinator Juan and first officer Porfirio follow the rescue operation involving ships and sea rescue helicopters scanning the area to spot survivors in the water 05 August. A boat carrying migrants had capsized and sank with many feared drowned. (Photo: Marta Soszynska/MSF)

A boat carrying hundreds of migrants has capsized in the Mediterranean.

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The incident occurred about 25 miles off the Libyan coast when the overcrowded vessel got in to difficulty sparking a major search and rescue operation.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said they had received reports that as many as 700 migrants had been on board.

The Irish Navy ship LE Niamh was sent to the scene at the request of the Italian coast guard while the MV Dignity I, a vessel operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres was also at the scene along with a boat from the Migrant Offshore Aid Station Moas, based out of Malta.

"We think that there could have been up to 700 people on board," an IOM spokesman said.

The agency said it was receiving reports of a "significant number" of casualties.

Migrants prepare to disembark from the LE Niamh upon its arrival in the port of Messina yesterday
Migrants prepare to disembark from the LE Niamh upon its arrival in the port of Messina yesterday
Credit: MSF/Twitter
Migrants prepare to disembark from the LE Niamh
Rescue boat pulls up alongside LÉ Niamh
Migrant boats in Pozzallo harbour, Sicily

Scores of others are believed to have been pulled from the water alive.

Only days ago the IOM warned the death toll of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean this year had reached 2,000 compared with 3,279 for the whole of 2014.

Defence Minister Simon Coveney confirmed that the LÉ Niamh is currently involved in the rescue operation off the Libyan coast and was the first ship at the scene.

"At 8 am Irish time, the LÉ Niamh was tasked by the Italian Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (MRCC) to come to the assistance of a fishing vessel north-west of Tripoli, which was in distress with an estimated 600 persons on board," Minister Coveney confirmed.

"The LE Niamh, along Italian Naval vessels, the Medicins Sans Frontiére vessel “DIGNITY”, and a number of helicopters are currently engaged in the rescue operation. 

"All assets including RHIBS (rigid hull inflatable boats) and life rafts have been deployed in support of the emergency operation.

Rescue boat pulls up alongside LÉ Niamh
Rescue boat pulls up alongside LÉ Niamh

"As the operation is currently ongoing, with all personnel fully engaged in the rescue, it is difficult to ascertain full details on the scale of the incident," he continued.

"However I understand that the fishing vessel capsized and that the loss of life is likely to be significant. 

"The crew of the Niamh are working flat out with their counterparts to rescue as many as possible. 

"Latest reports from LÉ NIAMH are that 165 people have been rescued. 

"Tragically seventeen bodies have also been recovered.  That number is likely to rise in the coming hours”. 

 “Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have lost their lives, the survivors and the rescuers for whom this is an extremely difficult operation”, the Minister added.  

A Medecins Sans Frontieres spokesman told Independent.ie that its rescue boat the Dignity is also on the scene.

"According to information currently available, there could have been up to 700 people on board at the time of the incident.

"MSF’s two other search and rescue vessels in the Mediterranean-  the MY Phoenix (operated in collaboration with the NGO MOAS) and the Bourbon Argos are also moving to the zone of the shipwreck to offer assistance."

Juan Matías, MSF project coordinator on the Dignity I later reported on what he described as a "horrific sight".

"People were desperately clinging to lifebelts, boats and anything they could, fighting for their lives, amidst people drowning, and those who had already died.

“The fact that we were first called to assist this boat and then shortly afterwards sent to another one highlights the severe lack of resources available for rescue operations," he said. 

Other rescue ships continued to arrive to the area to assist, and the Dignity I provided medical treatment to ten people.

Five were in such severe condition that they needed to be evacuated by helicopter.

Press Association

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