Several children are feared to be among the victims of a shipwreck off the Libyan coast that left more than 200 people missing at sea.
The fishing boat carrying more than 600 people sent a distress call about 15 nautical miles north off Libya and capsized yesterday (5 August) when the Irish rescue boat, Niamh, got closer to the area, as migrants on the overcrowded vessel rushed to one side.
Today the Niamh has landed in Palermo with 367 survivors, including 12 women and 13 children as well as 25 bodies recovered from the sea, a spokeswoman for Save the Children told IBTimes UK. Six migrants in need of urgent medical care were transferred by helicopter to Lampedusa island.
Among the survivors were many Syrians and at least one Bangladeshi. Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told IBTimes UK that there are concerns that many Syrian children may be among those missing. "Syrians always travel with their families. As of now, 13 minors have been rescued," he said.
The Irish boat's crew and many migrants who survived told aid organisations that the vessel was carrying 600 people. That means that as many as 200 migrants could have drowned after the boat overturned. "It's difficult to establish how many people are missing," Di Giacomo said, adding that in the April tragedy, in which more than 800 migrants died after a boat capsized off the Libyan coast, the figure was given by a survivor who stood close to the traffickers counting people aboard.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) spokeswoman Sophie-Jane Madden told IBTimes UK that many people might be trapped within the belly of the boat. "It is very difficult for people to quickly get out of the hull once the boat overturned and sank as the door is only 1m sq," she said.
Melissa Fleming, a UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokeswoman, told the BBC that about 100 people are thought to have been travelling in the boat's hull. "The boat capsized very fast," she said.
Along with the Irish vessel, two rescue boats run by MSF, Dignity 1 and Argos, took part to the rescue operation. The medical charity published stunning footage of the operation:
The incident took place after the IOM said the death toll of the Mediterranean migrant crisis surpassed 2,000, with the majority losing their lives in the Channel of Sicily trying to reach Italy (1,930).
Di Giacomo said the vast majority of migrants, about 1,800, died between January and end of April, which is before the budget of Operation Triton, a Europe-funded border security operation, was tripled in the aftermath of Libya migrant shipwreck.
As reported by the IOM, rickety vessels used by Libyan smugglers and traffickers in the central Mediterranean route connecting Libya and Italy "significantly increase" the likelihood of tragedies occurring.
"It is unacceptable that in the 21st century people fleeing from conflict, persecution, misery and land degradation must endure such terrible experiences in their home countries, not to mention en route, and then die on Europe's doorstep," said IOM director general William Lacy Swing.
A total of 188,000 migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean so far. In April, more than 800 migrants died after a boat capsized off the Libyan coast.