Five children among 107 migrants drowned off Libyan coast
Most of the casualties hail from African countries and death toll expected to rise
A buoyancy aid lies on a beach where bodies of migrants washed up, in Zuwarah, west of Tripoli, Libya, on Thursday. Photograph: EPA
The death toll of migrants whose boat sank off Libya’s shore has reached 107, including 40 women and five children.
The condition of the bodies suggests they were not “decomposed and therefore have drowned within the past 48 hours”, according to a spokesman for Libya’s Red Crescent.
He said the boat that capsized on Wednesday might have been the one carrying the migrants.
Most of the migrants are from African countries and the death toll is expected to rise.
The discovery of the bodies off the western city of Zwara is the latest in a string of tragedies that have already claimed more than 1,000 lives in recent weeks as desperate migrants embark on treacherous sea journeys seeking a better life in Europe.
Four bodies were recovered and 340 people rescued on Friday from a sinking migrant boat carrying a “significant number” of people in the Mediterranean Sea south of the Greek island of Crete.
The coast guard said the roughly 25m vessel, which resembled a large fishing boat, had been carrying an undetermined number of people when it was located half-sunk about 75 nautical miles south of Crete in international waters, and within Egypt’s search and rescue area of operation.
Most survivors will be transported to Italy, with others to be taken to Egypt, Malta and Turkey, said the coast guard.
Greece was sending two patrol vessels, a military airplane and three helicopters, while five passing ships were participating in the rescue operation and one more was on its way. The coast guard said the operation was continuing to locate any potentially missing passengers from the migrant boat.
“The information we have on the number of people on board the vessel is still unclear – we’ve heard that there were 400 or 500 people on board, but we cannot confirm that number,” said coast guard spokesman Nikos Lagadianos.
“There is a huge rescue effort under way.”
Migrant smugglers have opted for more dangerous routes after a March agreement. The short crossing from the Turkish coast to Greek islands was the preferred route for migrants heading to Europe until Balkan countries closed their borders and the European Union reached an agreement with Turkey to stem the flow of people.
Under that deal, those arriving on Greek islands from March 20th onwards face deportation back to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece, a financially troubled country in which few migrants or refugees want to stay.
The deal has led to a dramatic decrease in numbers arriving on Greek islands from Turkey. The coast guard said it and European border patrol agency Frontex had rescued 164 people in four separate incidents on Thursday off the islands of Lesbos and Chios. Before the EU-Turkey deal, thousands would arrive each day.
However, the agreement has led refugees and migrants to seek alternative routes, with many attempting the much longer and more dangerous crossing from north Africa towards Italy. Hundreds have died in the past few weeks when overcrowded boats attempting the crossing sank.