130 migrants feared drowned in Mediterranean, bodies found

Debris from a dinghy which was supposedly carrying over 100 migrants are seen floating in the Mediterranean Sea northeast of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, April 22, 2021. (PHOTO / AP)

MILAN – A search in the Mediterranean sea for boats packed with migrants has found ten bodies floating near a capsized rubber boat that was believed to have been carrying 130 people, the French humanitarian organization SOS Mediterranee said.

Another wooden boat was still missing with about 40 migrants aboard, a spokesman for SOS Mediterranee said on Friday.

The civil hotline Alarm Phone had reported three boats were in distress on Wednesday, prompting SOS Mediterranee to launch a search “in very rough seas, with up to 6-metre waves”, the non-government organization said in a news release issued earlier.

Three merchant vessels helped the charity’s own rescue ship Ocean Viking search for the boats in international waters, northeast of the Libyan city of Tripoli.

SOS Mediterranee said merchant ship MY ROSE found three bodies in the water and an airplane of EU border agency Frontex spotted the rubber boat soon after.

The civil hotline Alarm Phone had reported three boats were in distress on Wednesday, prompting SOS Mediterranee to launch a search “in very rough seas, with up to 6-metre waves”, the non-government organization said in a news release issued earlier

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When Ocean Viking arrived on the scene it did not find any survivors but there were ten bodies in the water nearby. The statement issued on Twitter carried a photograph of a capsized black rubber boat.

A spokesman for the NGO said he had no information on the third boat that Alarm Phone had said was in distress.

Conflict-ridden Libya is a major route for migrants seeking to reach Europe. The French NGO said more than 350 people have died this year in the Central Mediterranean making the perilous voyage.

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“States abandon their responsibility to coordinate Search and Rescue operations, leaving private actors and civil society to fill the deadly void they leave behind,” SOS Mediterranee said in its statement.

The UN agencies called for reactivating state-led search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean and for a halt to returning migrants to “unsafe ports”.

The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a report at the end of March that last year more than 2,200 people perished at sea.

The true toll is probably far higher as aid groups reported at least five “invisible shipwrecks” that were never confirmed as they left no survivors.