ROME: At least 110 people are feared drowned off Libya after a migrant shipwreck and more may have died in another stricken vessel, the UN’s refugee agency said on Thursday citing survivor testimony.
“A vessel with around 140 people on board overturned Wednesday just a few hours after setting off from Libya, throwing everyone into the water. Only 29 people survived,” said UNHCR spokesperson Carlotta Sami.
The Norwegian Siem Pilot was first on the scene, some 20 nautical miles off Libya, and rescued the survivors — all of whom were in poor health after spending hours in the water — as well as recovering 12 bodies from the water.
Those pulled to safety were transferred to the island of Lampedusa by the Italian coast guard. They included two women who told the UN agency they believed they were the only survivors from a shipwreck in which some 125 people drowned.
“They told us they were on a faulty dinghy which began to sank as soon as they set sail. They were the only survivors,” Sami said.
But the Italian coast guard said it had no information on a second reported rescue on Wednesday or the saving of two women.
At least two rescue operations were underway in the Mediterranean on Thursday, with close to 180 people pulled to safety according to an AFP photographer aboard the Topaz Responder, run by the Malta-based MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station).
The rescue situation is often chaotic, with people confused, sick or exhausted after periods in crisis-hit Libya unable to specify how many people were on board their dinghies at the outset or what vessel pulled them from the water.
Over 4,000 migrants have died or are missing feared drowned after attempting the perilous Mediterranean crossing this year.