April 15th, 2024

Survivors of Mediterranean rescue say about 60 people died on the trip from Libya, aid group reports

By Colleen Barry, The Associated Press on March 14, 2024.

MILAN (AP) – Survivors rescued from a deflating rubber dinghy in the central Mediterranean Sea have reported that some 60 people who departed Libya with them more than a week ago perished during the journey, the humanitarian rescue group SOS Mediterranee said Thursday.

The European charity’s ship Ocean Viking spotted the dinghy with 25 people on board Wednesday. Two were unconscious, and were evacuated by an Italian Coast Guard helicopter for treatment. The other 23 were in serious condition, exhausted, dehydrated and with burns from fuel on board the boat.

SOS Mediterranee spokesman Francesco Creazzo said that the survivors were all male, 12 of them minors with two of those not yet teenagers. They were from Senegal, Mali and The Gambia.

Creazzo said the survivors were traumatized and unable to give full accounts of what had transpired during the voyage, adding that the number of missing and presumed dead was unlikely to ever be verified. Humanitarian organizations often rely on accounts of survivors when pulling together the numbers of dead and missing at sea, presumed to have died.

The U.N. International Organization for Migration says 227 people have died along the perilous central Mediterranean route this year through March 11, not counting the new reported missing and presumed dead. That’s out of a total 279 deaths in the Mediterranean since Jan. 1. A total of 19,562 people arrived in Italy using that route in the period.

The survivors said the boat departed Zawiya, Libya with about 85 people on board, including some women and at least one small child. The motor broke sometime after departure, and they had been adrift for more than a week.

“These people saw many of the dear ones die,” one of the rescuers, identified only as Massimo, said in a video distributed by SOS Mediterranee. “We have taken care of them. They were suffering from hypothermia, and burns from gasoline and sea water.”

The Ocean Viking later Wednesday night rescued another 113 people adrift in international waters off Libya in a wooden boat, including six women and two children, after being alerted by authorities. Before the Ocean Viking’s arrival, a civilian sailing vessel that was the first to arrive distributed live vests to the people.

Ocean Viking has been directed by Italian authorities to the port of Ancona, in the central Marche region, Creazzo said.

Humanitarian groups have warned that the far-right-led Italian government’s policy of assigning ports further north keeps their rescue ships out of waters where they can be saving lives.

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Trisha Thomas in Rome and Renata Brito in Barcelona contributed.

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