At least 100 migrants missing off the coast of Libya

The bodies of three babies were recovered while around 100 people are feared dead after a migrant boat sank off the coast of Libya on 29 June, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP), which obtained eyewitness accounts from 16 survivors.

Libyan coastguard spokesman Ayoub Qassim quoted a Yemeni survivor, who reported that the boat carried around 120-125 migrants before it capsized.

The boat had set off from the Libyan coast before dawn. A few hours later there was an explosion on board, after which the motor caught fire and the vessel began taking on water, survivors told AFP.

A 26-year-old Yemeni survivor, Amti Swileh, said, “When I saw the number of people on the boat, I refused to get on board, because we had been told that we would be 20 (passengers).” Swileh said the smugglers forced him onto the boat. “I saw people burn,” he said. “I lost all of my Yemeni friends who were with me. All five of them are missing.”

“People were saying to the captain to go back to Libya but by then our engine exploded. So many people were wounded,” 32-year-old Gambian Bakari Badi said.

Fishermen, who had spotted the boat in distress, notified the Libyan coastguard. The Open Arms rescue ship’s head of mission, Ricardo Canardo, said they had intercepted a radio transmission at about 8 a.m. between European military officials and the Libyan coastguard, giving details of a rubber boat in distress with at least 100 migrants onboard. Despite this fact, an official distress signal was only received by boats in the region 90 minutes later.

When Open Arms called the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Rome to offer help, officials there said the Libyan coastguard had the situation covered and that no assistance was needed. “We suspect it is the same people,” Canardo said.

The Libyan coastguard was forced to abandon most of the bodies of migrants who died in the shipwreck “for lack of resources”, a coastguard captain said.

Kobrem, a 17-year-old survivor, said he clung to a rope attached to the wrecked boat for two hours until rescuers arrived. “I saw people die: babies, children, women, men,” he said.

The passengers included several Moroccan families, none of whom survived, as well as Syrian and Sudanese citizens.

The deaths came as EU leaders, following overnight talks in Brussels, agreed to consider setting up “disembarkation platforms” outside the EU in a bid to discourage migrants boarding EU-bound smuggler boats.

Meanwhile, Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini announced that Italian ports would be closed “all summer” to migrant rescue ships.

“The NGOs will only see Italy on a postcard,” Mr Salvini said. “The ports will be closed all summer.” The government has also banned “the furnishing of fuel to the NGOs.”

“As the Italian military tells me as well as the Libyans, the NGOs help traffickers, consciously or not,” said Mr Salvini.

TMP – 27/07/2018