Tragedy In The Mediterranean: 33 Dead, Including Seven Children, As Boat Capsizes
This is one of the most tragic rescues conducted by Maltese NGO MOAS
A boat carrying around 750 migrants has capsized in one of the Mediterranean's most tragic rescue operations ever, leaving at least 33 people dead, including seven children, 14 women and 12 men.
Many migrants died because they were stuck below deck in a locked hold at the bottom of the boat - creating complications for rescuers.
The dead bodies - and more than 600 survivors - are expected to be disembarked in an Italian port this morning, arriving aboard a vessel owned by Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS).
The capsize was a result of overcrowding and sea swell, which tipped hundreds of people into the water, the NGO said. Thirty-two lifeless bodies were recovered by MOAS, together with 604 survivors, one of whom died later despite MOAS's medical crew's desperate efforts to save him.
"Several survivors are still in critical condition, including a 6-month pregnant woman who is being monitored for pregnancy related complications following the stress of losing her young son yesterday," the NGO said.
The MOAS aircraft began spotting vessels in distress in the early morning of Wednesday and the Phoenix’s RHIBS (rubber hulled inflatable boats) began the first rescue. As people shifted on deck following life-jacket distribution a slight swell hit the vessel, causing it to roll heavily, washing approximately 400 people overboard leaving still hundreds locked below deck in the hold.
"At this point the Phoenix issued a mayday relay to authorities as the MOAS RHIBs began pulling people from the water and other MOAS crew members attempted to break the locks into the hold of the wooden boat to rescue survivors from below deck."
An Italian navy helicopter appeared on scene to scout survivors, a Spanish aircraft deployed 3 life rafts and the Italian Coast Guard, navy and 2 commercial vessels approached to assist as many hundreds remained in the water. The numbers of people in the water made the rescue efforts increasingly delicate, requiring extreme caution and care as the rescue boats navigated the people and debris at sea in a hunt for survivors.
604 survivors were eventually embarked onto the Phoenix, both from the water and the hold of the wooden boat, following forced entry by the MOAS team. Approximately 80 survivors were also taken on board by tug boat Gagliardo.
“There are no words for what is happening in the Central Mediterranean right now. It is a horrifying tragedy that continues to unfold on Europe’s doorstep. MOAS is doing everything it can but alternative solutions must be found by Europe’s leaders if this continuing loss of life is to be mitigated,” said Christopher Catrambone, MOAS founder who was witness to yesterday’s rescue efforts.
His wife Regina Catrambone said: “We are all devastated by the needless loss of life yesterday, particularly that of young children. We strongly urge the G7 leaders currently meeting in Sicily, at the heart of this humanitarian crisis, to focus on implementable humanitarian solutions, rather than pushing unrealistic agendas centred around border control."