Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms said on Thursday (23 March) that at least 250 migrants were feared dead in the Mediterranean. The aid organisation said that it had recovered five bodies floating near two capsized rubber dinghies 15 miles off the Libyan coast.

The bodies of young African men close to the partially submerged boats were recovered by the Spanish organisation.

Medical staff aboard the rescue vessel said that the migrants had drowned 24 hours before their bodies were found. Laura Lanuza, spokesperson for the organisation said: "We don't think there can be any other explanation than that these dinghies would have been full of people. It seems clear that they sunk."

She added that the dinghies are usually crowded and could have been carrying 120-140 migrants

In a post on its Facebook page, the NGO said, "We brought on board five corpses recovered from the sea, but no lives. It is a harsh reality check of the suffering here that is invisible in Europe."

A spokesman for the Italian coastguard confirmed the deaths, but said it could not confirm the estimated number of people who drowned as they did not receive any distress calls from the boats.

According to data released by International Organisation for Migration (IOM) more than 20,000 migrants have reached Italian shores since January 2017 and around 559 people have died or disappeared while attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

A spokesperson for IOM, Joel Millman had earlier said, "We have yet to complete March, and we are already racing at a pace of arrivals that has exceeded anything we've seen before in the Mediterranean."

"This is typical of spring, getting very busy, but it's not typical to have the numbers be so high this early and the corresponding deaths that go with it."

To stem the flow of migrants, Libya and Italy have increased co-operation and the Libyan coast guard is turning boats back to the country before they reach international waters.

Mediterranean migrant crisis
Migrants are seen onboard a rescue vessel before arriving at the Italian harbour of Vibo Marina, Italy – File image Yara Nardi/Italian Red Cross press office/Handout via Reuters