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60 African migrants die on Italy-bound boat amid food, water shortages

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At least 60 migrants have died after a rubber dinghy (inflatable boat) ran into trouble in the Mediterranean Sea, according to survivors.

The 25 survivors were picked up by the Ocean Viking, a vessel operated by the humanitarian group SOS Méditerranée.

They told their rescuers that they had set off from Zawiya on the Libyan coast several days before being rescued.

The engine of the dinghy broke down after three days, leaving the boat adrift without food or water.

The survivors said that the victims included women and at least one child. They are believed to have died from dehydration and hunger, not drowning.

SOS Méditerranée said the Ocean Viking team had spotted the dinghy, which set off last Friday, with binoculars on Wednesday and had staged a medical evacuation in co-operation with Italian coast guards.

It said the survivors were “in very weak health condition” and were all under medical care.

Two of them, who were unconscious and in critical condition, had been flown to Sicily by helicopter for further treatment, the group added.

The remaining 23 are still on board the Ocean Viking, along with more than 200 other migrants who were rescued from two other boats.

The vessel is heading for the port of Ancona, about four days away, but the team has requested a closer port of safety.

“The people who were on the boat in distress, lost at sea for almost a week, went out of water and food very quickly, according to the survivors,” said an SOS Méditerranée spokeswoman on board the ship.

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“People died along the way. I met a man who lost his wife and one-and-a-half-year-old baby. The baby died the first day, the mother the fourth day. They were from Senegal and had been in Libya for more than two years.”

The EU’s border agency Frontex told the BBC that it raised the alarm last Friday after spotting a vessel with more than 50 people onboard near the coast of Libya. It did not specify if it was the same rubber dinghy picked up by the Ocean Viking.

Frontex says one of its aircraft out on a routine trip spotted the vessel within Libya’s rescue zone and so alerted the Libyan authorities.

The EU agency says it also issued a mayday alert to all other boats in the area to help the vessel – and contacted Italian and Maltese rescue coordination centres too.

Frontex says its aircraft needed to return to dry land to refuel and it didn’t know what happened to the vessel after the initial observation.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said last week that 2023 was the deadliest year for migrants since records began a decade ago, with at least 8,565 people dying on migration routes worldwide.

The UN agency said the figure was 20% up on the year before.

Its report found that the Mediterranean crossing continued to be the most dangerous journey, with at least 3,129 deaths and disappearances during 2023 – the highest toll since 2017.

Julia Black, a IOM Project manager, told the BBC that “not as many people are crossing now but almost as many people are dying”.

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“With the 300 deaths recorded this year so far that’s nearly the same as last year, so I am greatly concerned that we are going to see a record-breaking year in terms of the number of deaths in the Mediterranean.”


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