Migrants rescued by the Sea-Watch today. Credit: Doug Kuntz/Sea-Watch
Some 117 people who fled Libya two days ago are feared dead after their rubber dinghy capsized in the Mediterranean Sea.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said only three of the 120 people on the boat have so far been found alive.
“The three survivors told us they were 120 when they left Garabulli, in Libya, on Thursday night,” an IOM spokesperson said. “After 10 to 11 hours at sea, the boat started sinking and people started drowning.”
He said the migrants hailed mainly from west Africa, and included ten women, one pregnant, and two children, one just two months old.
An Italian military plane on sea patrol first spotting the sinking dinghy on Friday and threw two safety rafts into the water before leaving due to a lack of fuel. Another helicopter was then dispatched from a naval ship and rescued the three survivors, who were suffering from severe hypothermia. They have since been taken to a hospital in Lampedusa.
The Italian navy said it had alerted Libyan authorities, who ordered a merchant ship to go to the site of the sinking. However, rescue efforts ceased after the search for the dinghy had proved fruitless.
Meanwhile, the Sea-Watch 3, a NGO-run vessel that was recently at the centre of a diplomatic spat between Malta and Italy, said it has rescued 47 people, including eight unaccompanied minor, from a rubber dinghy in distress in international waters north of Zuwara, Libya.
“We’re incredibly glad we found them in time,” said Sea-Watch’s head of operations Kim Heaton-Heather. “With an EU the neither wants to rescue nor cooperate, it is the few civilian rescuers doing their best in saving lives and defending human rights at sea.”
Sea-Watch urged the international community to come up with a solution in the migrants’ best interests.
“The moral bankruptcy of denying people their fundamental rights by keeping them hostage at sea for 19 days must not be repeated,” it said, referring to the recent spat off the Maltese coast. “Europe is not only letting people drown, it is actively hindering those willing to help. This deadly policy must be ended now, we don’t have the time to wait for European leaders carrying out their conflicts on the back of people in need.”