More than 30 migrants, 'most of them toddlers', drown off Libyan coast
More than 30 migrants, mostly toddlers, drowned yesterday when about 200 people without life jackets fell from a boat into the sea off the Libyan coast before they could be hauled into waiting rescue boats.
The boat was near a rescue vessel when it suddenly listed and many migrants tumbled into the Mediterranean, Italian Coast Guard commander Cosimo Nicastro told Reuters. "At least 20 dead bodies were spotted in the water," he said.
Rescue group Moas, which also had a ship nearby, said it had recovered more than 30 bodies. "Most are toddlers," the group's co-founder Chris Catrambone said on Twitter.
The coast guard called in more ships to help with the rescue, saying about 1,700 people were packed into about 15 vessels in the area.
The transfer from these overloaded boats is risky as desperate migrants in them sometimes surge to the side nearest a rescue vessel and destabilise their flimsy craft, which then list dangerously or capsize.
More than 1,300 people have died this year on the world's most dangerous crossing for migrants fleeing poverty and war across Africa and the Middle East.
Last Friday, more than 150 disappeared at sea, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday, citing migrant testimony collected after they disembarked in Italy.
In the past week, more than 7,000 migrants have been plucked from unsafe boats in international waters off the western coast of Libya, where people smugglers operate with impunity.
Despite efforts by Italy and the European Union to bolster the Tripoli-based coast guard and funnel training and equipment to fight trafficking to the UN-backed government, record numbers of migrants are coming this year.
Italy is hosting a meeting of the world's seven major industrialised nations in Sicily tomorrow and Saturday, and is pushing the group, which includes the United States, to put migration, Libya's stabilisation and African development at the top of the agenda.
"The tragedy of children dying in the Mediterranean is a wake-up call to leaders meeting in Sicily," the UN Children's Fund executive director Justin Forsyth, who is traveling to the summit, said.
"These extremely vulnerable children need action now."
More than 50,000 migrants have been rescued at sea and brought to Italy so far, a 46pc increase on the same period last year, the Interior Ministry said this week.
Most rescues take place just outside the 12-mile mark that separates Libyan territory from international waters. It is a busy stretch of sea where humanitarian vessels, the Libyan coast guard and scavengers hoping to recover abandoned migrant boats and their engines operate.