Saturday 24 March 2018

Ship carrying 600 refugees sinks

Colleen Barry in Milan

An overcrowded ship carrying up to 600 people trying to flee Libya capsized and sank just outside the port of Tripoli, the UN refugee agency confirmed yesterday.

Aid officials were still trying to confirm the fate of those people after the vessel broke apart last Friday in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya, according to UNHCR spokeswoman Laura Boldrini said.

Witnesses who left the Libyan capital on another boat shortly afterwards reported seeing remnants of the sunken ship and the bodies of some passengers floating in the sea. Other witnesses saw passengers swimming to shore but it was unclear how many survived.

UN staff on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa interviewed a Somali woman who said she lost her four-month-old baby in the sinking. The woman swam to shore and managed to board another boat heading to Italy.

At least three other boats that left Libya in late March have disappeared, with hundreds feared dead, Ms Boldrini said.

The number of people fleeing North Africa has soared since mid-January, after Tunisia overthrew its long-time dictator and set off a series of uprisings in Egypt and Libya.

Some 25,000 people, mostly Tunisians, have flooded Lampedusa, which is right off the North African coast.

Since fighting began in Libya in mid-February, the UN estimates that another 10,000 people have reached Lampedusa or the neighbouring island of Linosa from Libya -- including almost 2,000 who arrived on five boats last weekend.

Irish Independent

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