By Alessandra Bocchi.
Tunis, 24 March 2016:
As many as 240 migrants are feared to have drowned around 15 kilometres off the Libyan coast north of Sabratha after a Spanish aid organisation found five bodies in the water and two capsized inflatable boats yesterday. A third inflatable is reported to have disappeared.
The number of those who may have perished in the tragedy is a guestimate based on the boats’ capacities and the fact that it is not known for smugglers to dispatch anything other than vessels that are full to overflowing. The two boats that were found are said to be capable of holding 100 people in normal circumstances.
Spanish Rescue organisation Proactiva Open Arms could not specify when the tragedy occurred although it thought to have happened within the previous 24 hours.
The five bodies found yesterday morning – all of males aged between 16 and 25 years – were taken to the Sicilian port of Catania.
Proactiva spokesperson Laura Lanuza added that they had looked for a third boat after being informed of its presence by the Italian coast guard, but had been unable to locate it.
According to the International Organization for Migration, over 20,000 migrants arrived in Italy this year with anther 559 people said to have died or vanished on the journey. This is up from the same period last year. In the first quarter of 2016, the figures were 19,000 safe arrivals and 350 deaths. The number of those rescued while heading to Italy is also up according to the Italian authorities, from 16,200 for the first eleven weeks of 2017, compared to 11,900 for the same period in 2016.
With the start of Spring and calmer seas, the number of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean has risen. Some 3,000 were saved off the Libyan coast in some separate operations coordinated by the Italian coastguard on the 19 March alone.