MEDITERRANEAN SEA: At least eight people died and 86 others were rescued after a rubber dinghy starting sinking in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya, according to the Italian coast guard, which said a search was continuing to find any more survivors.
The coast guard, which coordinates rescues in international waters off Libya’s coast, said an aircraft on patrol for a European anti-smuggling operation spotted the dinghy in difficulty, on Saturday morning. Italian navy and coast guard vessels were involved in the rescue.
The coast guard’s Cmdr Sergio Liardo told RaiNews24 “it appears the dinghy deflated” after a puncture. When rescuers arrived in the early afternoon about 20 people were still in the dinghy while others were in the water.
All eight victims were female, Liardo said. Asked about a Libyan navy account that at least 25 migrants had perished, he said: “That’s not confirmed.” Survivors told rescuers roughly 150 migrants were on board when the dinghy was launched from Libya’s coast.
“We are looking for any eventual survivors,” Liardo said, adding the search would continue through the night.
Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish humanitarian group that is one of the few NGOs that still operate their own rescue ships outside Libyan waters, said some of the migrants had spent hours in the water before being saved. The aid group tweeted that possibly dozens more could be missing from the boat.
Libyan navy and coast guard spokesman Brig Gen Ayoub Qassim said the migrants’ boat capsized and sank in international waters and the Libyan navy did not have the resources to rush to their rescue. He said the boat left Garbouli, east of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, with more than 100 people on board. Smugglers routinely crowd much more than 100 people into motorised rubber dinghies designed to hold far fewer.
About 119,000 migrants arrived in Italy from across the Mediterranean in 2017 and, according to the International Organisation for Migration, more than 3,100 died making the crossing.
Meanwhile, more than 200 African migrants scaled a six-metre high double fence between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla on Saturday, injuring a police officer.
A total of 209 people from sub-Saharan Africa seeking to get to Europe forced their way across the fence in the afternoon, the Spanish government said in a statement.
The statement said the police officer received a cut to his ear after being “attacked by an immigrant with one of the hooks they use to clamber up the fence” as he tried to stop them.
Four of the migrants were taken to hospital with minor injuries, the statement added.
Mobile phone footage broadcast by Spanish media showed a group of migrants running through the streets of the city. Afterwards, they were taken to a migrant detention centre.
The number of migrants reaching Spain in 2017 hit a record high of nearly 22,900 according to the EU border agency Frontex.