An overcrowded ship carrying up to 600 Muslim freeloaders trying to flee Libya sank just outside the port of Tripoli. Witnesses who left the Libyan capital on another boat shortly afterward reported seeing remnants of the sunken ship and the bodies of some passengers floating in the sea.
MSNBC – (H/T Lee S) -Aid officials were still trying to confirm the fate of those people after the vessel broke apart Friday in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya, UNHCR spokeswoman Laura Boldrini said. Other witnesses saw passengers swimming to shore but it was unclear how many survived, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Its staff on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa interviewed a Somali woman who said she lost her four-month-old baby in the sinking. The woman swam to shore and managed to board another boat heading to Italy, the IOM said in a statement Monday.
The number of people fleeing North Africa has soared since mid-January, after Tunisia overthrew its longtime dictator and set off a series of uprisings in Egypt and Libya. Some 25,000 people, mostly Tunisians, have flooded Lampedusa, which is right off the North African coast.
Since fighting began in Libya in mid-February, the IOM estimates that another 10,000 people have reached Lampedusa or the neighboring island of Linosa from Libya — including almost 2,000 who arrived on five boats last weekend.
Boldrini said the deaths and disappearances among people trying to cross the Mediterranean is increasing as smugglers begin to use bigger and less seaworthy boats.
In other missing boat cases, Boldrini said the UNHCR told the Italian Coast Guard that two boats carrying 120 and 360 migrants respectively left Libya in late March but never arrived in Italy. Their relatives fear they are dead since they have lost contact with them.
In a third case, relayed by an Eritrean priest in Rome to Boldrini, a
boat with more than 70 people on board ran into trouble in the Mediterranean and only a handful survived, making their way back to Libya.
London’s Guardian newspaper reported Monday that 61 African migrants died of hunger and thirst in March on that third ship after being ignored by a NATO warship and helicopter.
Aid officials said it was impossible to know how many people have drowned this year while trying to reach Europe. “There’s been no way of charting for sure how many boats have left, how many people never made it. Some of them we will never know about,” said Pandya.