Tuesday 6 December 2016

At least 107 dead as migrant boat sinks off Libya

Elena Becatoros

Published 04/06/2016 | 02:30

The bodies of more than 100 migrants have washed up on a Libyan beach after a migrant boat sank in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo: AFP
The bodies of more than 100 migrants have washed up on a Libyan beach after a migrant boat sank in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo: AFP

The death toll of migrants whose boat sank off Libya's shore has reached 107, including 40 women and five children.

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The condition of the bodies suggests they were not "decomposed and therefore have drowned within the past 48 hours", according to a spokesman for Libya's Red Crescent.

He said the boat that capsized on Wednesday might have been the one carrying the migrants.

Most of the migrants are from African countries and the death toll is expected to rise.

The discovery of the bodies off the western city of Zwara is the latest in a string of tragedies that have already claimed more than 1,000 lives in recent weeks as desperate migrants embark on treacherous sea journeys seeking a better life in Europe.

Four bodies were recovered and 340 people were rescued yesterday from a sinking migrant boat carrying a "significant number" of people in the Mediterranean Sea south of the Greek island of Crete.

Red Crescent personnel retrieve the body of a migrant that washed up on a beach near Zuwarah, Libya. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Red Crescent personnel retrieve the body of a migrant that washed up on a beach near Zuwarah, Libya. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

The coast guard said the roughly 25-metre vessel, which resembled a large fishing boat, had been carrying an undetermined number of people when it was located half-sunk about 75 nautical miles south of Crete in international waters, and within Egypt's search and rescue area of operation.

Most survivors will be transported to Italy, with others to be taken to Egypt, Malta and Turkey, the coast guard said.

Greece was sending two patrol vessels, a military airplane and three helicopters, while five passing ships were participating in the rescue operation and one more was on its way. The coast guard said the operation was continuing to locate any potentially missing passengers from the migrant boat.

"The information we have on the number of people on board the vessel is still unclear - we've heard that there were 400 or 500 people on board, but we cannot confirm that number," Coast Guard spokesman Nikos Lagadianos said.

"There is a huge rescue effort under way."

Migrant smugglers have opted for more dangerous routes after a March agreement between Turkey and the EU.

The short crossing from the Turkish coast to Greek islands was the preferred route for migrants heading to Europe until Balkan countries closed their borders and the European Union reached an agreement with Turkey to stem the flow of people.

Under that deal, those arriving on Greek islands from March 20 onwards face deportation back to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece, a financially troubled country few migrants or refugees want to stay in.

The deal has led to a dramatic decrease in the number of people arriving on Greek islands from Turkey. Before the EU-Turkey deal, thousands would arrive each day.

However, the agreement has led refugees and migrants to seek alternative routes, with many attempting the much longer and more dangerous crossing from north Africa towards Italy.

Hundreds have died in the past few weeks when overcrowded boats attempting the crossing sank.

Irish Independent

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