Debris from a dinghy which was supposedly carrying over 100 migrants are seen floating in the Mediterranean Sea northeast of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. AP
More than 100 Europe-bound migrants are feared dead in a shipwreck off Libya, independent rescue groups said, in the latest loss of life as attempts to cross the Mediterranean increase during the warmer months.
Humanitarian organisations have accused the Libyan coast guard and European authorities of failing to meet their responsibilities to save lives. A Libyan coast guard official told The Associated Press that they searched for the boat but could not find it with their limited resources.
The body of one of the victims of the shipwreck of a dinghy is seen floating in the Mediterranean Sea. AP
SOS Mediterranee, which operates the rescue vessel Ocean Viking, said late on Thursday that the capsized rubber boat, which was initially carrying around 130 people, was spotted in the Mediterranean Sea northeast of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. The aid vessel did not find any survivors, but could see at least ten bodies near the wreck.
"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,” it said in a statement.
The migrant traffic has raised the question among European Union countries and Libya over who is responsible for saving those at sea.
The European humanitarian organisation said that those missing will likely join the 350 people who have drowned in the sea so far this year. It accused governments of failing to provide search and rescue operations.
"These are the human consequences of policies which fail to uphold international law and the most basic of humanitarian imperatives,” tweeted Eugenio Ambrosi, Chief of Staff for the International Organisation for Migration.
Debris from a dinghy are seen floating in the Mediterranean Sea northeast of Tripoli. AP
Alarm Phone, a crisis hotline for migrants in distress in the Mediterranean, said that it had been in contact with the boat in distress for nearly ten hours before it capsized. Alarm Phone said in a statement that it had notified European and Libyan authorities of the GPS position of the boat but only non-state rescue groups actively searched for it.
Alarm Phone accused European authorities of refusing to coordinate a search operation, leaving it solely in the hands of the Libyan Coast Guard.
Libya Coast Guard Spokesman Commander Masoud Ibrahim Masoud described allegations that they had been negligent as untrue.
"We coordinated the search operation,” he told The Associated Press. "The ships kept searching in the sea for more than 24 hours but the waves were very rough.”
Masoud told the AP that the Libyan coast guard had received around noon on Wednesday two rescue alerts from two different rubber boats in distress to the east of Tripoli. A patrol vessel was immediately dispatched and rescued 106 migrants, including women and children, who were aboard one of the two boats.
Two bodies were also pulled out of the water near the capsized boat. He said the same vessel continued to search, but visibility was low and seas rough. He said the vessel eventually returned to port so that the other migrants onboard could receive medical attention.
In the meantime, he said Libyan authorities asked three merchant ships and Ocean Viking to look for the missing rubber boat, until the Libyan patrol vessel could join them again.
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Thousands of refugees and migrants including many from Africa undertake long, dangerous journeys via Libya to Europe each year, often embarking on small, inflatable boats in search of a better life.
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