Dozens of migrants travelling from Libya to Europe feared dead in latest Mediterranean disaster
(telegraph.co.uk) — Dozens of migrants trying to reach Europe from Libya were feared to have drowned after the large rubber dinghy they were travelling in deflated and sank at sea, in the latest tragedy to hit the Mediterranean.
Accounts of the sinking were given by some of the 240 survivors who were rescued and brought to the port of Catania in Sicily on Tuesday. At least 40 people were thought to have died.
The survivors told the charity Save the Children that people drowned after jumping into the water when the rubber boat began losing air.
Survivors, including two children as young as five years old, were saved by a container vessel, the Zeran, which had been sent to the area by Italian search and rescue authorities.
The testimony appeared to be corroborated by dramatic video footage obtained by The Associated Press which showed migrants desperately jumping out of a deflating rubber dinghy and clambering up ropes and ladders on the side of the Zeran.
The crew of the merchant vessel threw life saving rings down to the migrants, some of whom emptied fuel from jerry cans in order to use them as floats.
Amid panic on board the dinghy, a crew member of the Zeran could be heard urging the migrants to keep calm, yelling “Easy, easy!” “There was the big ship there and they threw down ropes,” Astoy Fall Dia, a 24 year-old migrant from Senegal, told the AP after disembarking from the container ship in Sicily.
“Someone grabbed onto the rope. All the other people started pushing to try to save themselves but the people started falling in the water.”
She said she survived because she stayed close to the dinghy, and because she knew how to swim.
Five bodies were recovered from the sea and brought ashore at Catania with the survivors.
The incident, which happened on Sunday, came two weeks after the worst disaster in the Mediterranean in decades, when around 750 refugees and asylum seekers died after the fishing trawler they were packed into capsized and sank.
Survivors said the people who died had been locked inside the hold and lower deck of the boat.
With spring heralding warm weather and calm seas, the pace of migrant arrivals has quickened dramatically.
More than 7,000 were rescued by Italian and other ships in the last few days.
They are among 32,000 people who have reached Italy so far this year, with the vast majority leaving from Libya, where trafficking is organised by ruthless gangs who sometimes beat, imprison and torture the migrants in order to extort more money from their families in their home countries.
Around 1,800 have died attempting the crossing since the start of January.
Italy is running out of space in which to accommodate all the asylum seekers, with the government looking at the possibility of using disused police and army barracks as makeshift reception centres.
Italy’s 20 regions have been told by Rome to provide 9,000 new bed spaces as soon as possible, but many are in open rebellion against the order, particularly in northern regions such as Lombardy and Veneto, where anti-immigrant feeling is stoked by the right-wing Northern League.