240 feared dead in Mediterranean after migrant boat capsizes
Fresh testimony from survivors of a deadly shipwreck in the Mediterranean on Wednesday raised the likely toll for the past 48 hours to 240, confirming fears of rescuers who had warned that dozens had died.
The new tally is based on information gathered by the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) from 15 survivors, who said around 135 people had drowned or were lost when a dinghy sank on Monday. Around 95 others were feared dead after another dinghy sank on Tuesday.
A total of nine bodies have been pulled out after both the incidents, while a person was seen to have drowned but could not be pulled out from the sea by rescue teams.
Monday's survivors arrived early Wednesday in the port of Catania in Sicily, where they spoke of their ordeal. "The survivors told us that there were around 150 people on board, so there would be around 135 still missing,” said UNHCR spokesman Iosta Ibba.
The migrants are overwhelmingly from sub-Saharan Africa.
The latest deaths will lift the total number of migrants, who died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, to over 4,500, according to a UNHCR count based on bodies recovered and survivor accounts.
The Malta-based charity MOAS, which deploys two rescue boats in the area, said, "It is almost certain that the actual toll is much higher than the recorded figure as it is highly likely that many boats sink without ever being reported".
The rate of departures from the North African coast continues unabated, despite worsening weather in the Mediterranean, with over 2,700 people having been rescued from crowded and unseaworthy dinghies off Libya since Saturday.
Video footage released by MOAS showed survivors on board one of its rescue vessels, howling in grief as the body of a victim is carried on board, wrapped in a white sheet.
The charity blamed "the changing approach of smuggling networks", which it said showed "an attempt to maximise opportunity and meet demand on the part of the smugglers". "Whereas in past years, crossings were organised in more manageable trickles, perhaps a few a day, this year our crews have seen departures organised in large waves," it said in a statement.