More than 300 Africans, including women and children, were feared to have drowned after their boats capsized off Libya during a new upsurge of illegal migration to Europe, officials said yesterday.
At least 23 bodies of drowned migrants were recovered by Libyan coast guards near the wreckage of three rickety boats that sailed from the coastal village of Sidi Belal near Tripoli, Libya’s most influential daily, Oea, said yesterday, quoting security officials.
One of the boats was carrying 365 people although it was only supposed to hold 75, Libyan officials said. It was one of four migrant ships that sailed from Libya between Saturday and Sunday, apparently heading for Italy.
“After more than two days of searching, we have found no more bodies or survivors or the boat,” a Libyan official said.
Among those missing were people from Somalia, Nigeria, Eritrea, Kurdish areas of Syria, Algeria, Morocco, the Palestinian territories and Tunisia, officials said.
A Libyan security official quoted a Tunisian survivor as saying: “I was on board the boat with 13 other Tunisians among the 365 migrants. I’m the only survivor. All my fellow Tunisians drowned.”
A fourth ship crammed with more than 350 migrants broke down near Libya’s offshore Buri oilfield but Libyan coastguards towed the vessel to the port of Tripoli and rescued all the migrants, including women and children.
“Up to three boats appear to have sunk off the Libyan coast. These boats have no life-saving material on board. It would seem that more than 300 people have disappeared at sea,” International Office of Migration (IOM) spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said in Geneva.
“They were not at swimming distance from shore,” he said.
IOM was not aware of any survivors aboard the three boats.
“There’s no safety equipment on those boats — no buoys, dinghies or anything — because the purpose is to cram as many people on those boats as possible with total disrespect for their safety and dignity,” Chauzy later told a news briefing.
There had been “massive departures” from Libya in the past 36 hours, amid strong sandstorms known as ghibli, IOM said.