Irish navy ship LÉ Samuel Beckett has recovered the bodies of five migrants from a rubber dinghy in the central Mediterranean Sea, some 40 nautical miles northeast of the Libyan capital Tripoli. The same boat also rescued 118 survivors who were given food, water and medical treatment aboard the boat. It had earlier saved 18 migrants aboard yet another vessel.
In separate operations, the Italian navy rescued 53 migrants from three separate vessels and the humanitarian organisation Lifeboat saved 130 from another boat. Altogether almost 300 migrants were rescued in under 24 hours, according to Reuters.
The Italian operations were near the islands of Pantelleri, Lampione and Lampedusa, scene of an infamous incident in 2013 in which an estimated 386 migrants drowned. Since then the migrant crisis has intensified, and with the narrow crossing between Turkey and Greece made more difficult, the longer, more dangerous crossing between north Africa and Italy has again become a common route for people smugglers.
At least 3,100 migrants are known to have perished attempting to make the crossing in 2016 alone, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Many are packed in leaking boats, sometimes locked in holds, or in rubber dinghies which are deliberately punctured by the smugglers when they see a vessel nearby. Many of the migrants, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa, cannot swim. The sea is also becoming choppier, colder and more dangerous as winter approaches.
The bulk of the difficult and dangerous work of rescuing migrants and retrieving their bodies has fallen on the Italian navy and coastguard and Irish navy boats under the direction of the Maritime Rescue Co-Ordination Centre. In early October (2016) more than 6,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean in the space of 24 hours. Nine others died.
On 18 October Immigration minister Robert Goodwell admitted the UK government had not estimated how many migrants will try to cross the Mediterranean Sea in 2017. "Determining refugee status is at the discretion of EU Member States and we do not estimate the number of illegal migrants that will be granted refugee status," said Goodwell.