At least 120 asylum seekers are feared dead after their rubber boat capsized in stormy seas off the coast of Libya while they were attempting to reach Europe, charities and the UN migration agency say.
Dozens of bodies were spotted near a capsized vessel on Thursday, which had about 130 people on board, a rescue charity said.
According to an initial reconstruction of events, the European humanitarian group SOS Méditerranée was alerted on Tuesday by the volunteer-run Mediterranean rescue hotline Alarm Phone to the presence of three boats in distress in international waters off Libya. Waves in the area were reaching heights of up to six metres.
The SOS Méditerranée’s ship, Ocean Viking, as well as merchant vessels, headed to the area and found no survivors, but at least 10 bodies.
“Today, after hours of search, our worst fear has come true,’’ said Luisa Albera, search and rescue coordinator aboard Ocean Viking. “The crew of the Ocean Viking had to witness the devastating aftermath of the shipwreck of a rubber boat north-east of Tripoli. This boat had been reported in distress with around 130 people onboard on Wednesday morning.
“We are heartbroken. We think of the lives that have been lost and of the families who might never have certainty as to what happened to their loved ones.’’
Alarm Phone said: “The people could have been rescued but all authorities knowingly left them to die at sea.”
The hotline service claims it was in contact with the boat in distress over 10 hours on 21 April, and repeatedly relayed its GPS position and the dire situation to European and Libyan authorities and the wider public.
However, it said all the European authorities rejected responsibility to coordinate the search operation and instead pointed at the Libyan authorities as the “competent” authorities.
“The Libyan coastguard, however, refused to launch or coordinate a rescue operation, leaving the 130 people out in a rough sea for a whole night,” it said.
“The lack of an efficient patrolling system is undeniable and unacceptable,” Flavio Di Giacomo, Italy’s spokesman for the UN migration agency, said on Twitter. “Things need to change.”
Photo: The Ocean Viking rescue ship. EPA-EFE/INGENITO