CAIRO — About 150 people are believed to have drowned off western Libya after a fishing boat and a smaller boat carrying migrants sank in the Mediterranean, Libyan and international relief officials said on Friday.
A spokesman for the Libyan Red Crescent, Mohamed al-Misrati, put the confirmed death toll from the two vessels at 105 people and said that 30 to 40 people were still missing. He said 198 survivors had been rescued, some of them Libyans, some from elsewhere in Africa and some from Syria.
If confirmed, the combined death toll would be among the highest this summer for refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa.
The larger of the two vessels sank on Thursday, the same day that authorities in Austria found the decomposing bodies of 71 people, presumed to be migrants, in the back of a truck abandoned alongside a highway. The smaller boat was said to have gone down sometime Wednesday night or early Thursday.
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Jamal Naji Zubia, the director of the foreign media office for the Tripoli-based government of Libya, said that the fishing boat had gone down off the port city of Zuwarah, in the far west of the country near the Tunisian border. Zuwarah is a frequently used departure point for migrants and refugees trying to make the Mediterranean crossing, often in packed fishing boats or rubber dinghies.
More than 300,000 people are estimated to have tried the crossing this year, and at least 2,500 have died or are missing, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Foued Gamoudi, a Tunisia-based coordinator for the medical relief group Doctors Without Borders, said that one of the group’s staff members saw the wreckage of the fishing boat on the Libyan shore where the country’s coast guard had towed it. He said 40 bodies were still inside the boat. Coast guard officers told Mr. Gamoudi’s organization that they had “witnessed many bodies floating around in the sea,” Mr. Gamoudi said.
It was not immediately known how many people the fishing boat was carrying when it foundered. Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency, said that that such boats often set out with 300 to 400 people on board. Relief officials said the smaller boat would have been carrying several dozen people.
Ms. Sami said Red Crescent workers had told her that they did not have enough body bags for all the victims of the fishing-boat sinking.
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(via NY Times)