Wednesday 12 December 2018

Dozens more drown in Mediterranean as migrant boat sinks

A young migrant is brought ashore at Salerno, Italy. Photo: Getty Images
A young migrant is brought ashore at Salerno, Italy. Photo: Getty Images

Paula De Bassos

Dozens more migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean after a boat carrying an estimated 137 people sank south of Sicily.

The Save the Children aid agency said yesterday that survivors described how as many as 40 people fell into the sea as a rescue vessel was approaching.

The migrants who were rescued arrived in the city of Catania last night.

At least 1,750 people have died already this year trying to cross the Mediterranean, a 20-fold increase on the same period in 2014.

Giovanna di Benedetto, Save the Children's representative in Catania, said the latest sinking is thought to have happened on Sunday, but the exact toll was not known.

"They (survivors) said there were 137 people aboard an inflatable boat that deflated or exploded- it wasn't clear - and that some of them fell overboard," Ms di Benedetto said.

Survivors say dozens of people fell into the sea and drowned because they could not swim.

"Some said 'very many' died, others said 'around 40'," she added. The survivors were picked up by a Maltese merchant ship and five bodies were also recovered.

Dramatic footage of the rescue shows migrants desperately jumping off a deflating dinghy, and trying to climb up ropes and a rope ladder to the merchant ship.

About 100 people were found on a second boat, with no deaths reported, the aid agency added.

The number of migrants attempting to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean has risen in recent weeks as smugglers take advantage of fair weather.

In the past three days, about 7,000 people have been rescued and 10 bodies recovered off the Libyan coast, according to the Italian coastguard.

The majority of the migrants rescued by the Greek coastguard come from African countries and Syria.

Italian and French ships picked up survivors from wooden and rubber boats on at least 17 separate operations.

Meanwhile, Turkey's coastguard yesterday said it had rescued more than 600 people trying to cross the Aegean Sea in the past week.

More than 400 were men, women and children fleeing Syria, while the rest came from Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar (also known as Burma) and various African countries, the office of the Izmir provincial governor is quoted as saying.

The latest deaths come as naval chiefs from 26 European countries are due to discuss the migrant crisis at talks in Naples, southern Italy.

EU nations agreed last month to triple funding for rescue operations run by European border agency Frontex, contribute more boats and patrol aircraft for rescue efforts, and look at ways to target smugglers' boats with military strikes.

Irish Independent

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