The Save the Children aid group reported another migrant tragedy on Tuesday, with survivors saying “dozens” of their fellow passengers fell out of their rubber boat and likely drowned in the Mediterranean as a rescue vessel neared.
Save the Children’s Giovanna di Benedetto said from Catania, Sicily, that the exact toll wasn’t known. But she said that survivors, in their first interviews with aid officials once they reached shore, reported that many people fell into the sea and couldn’t swim.
The incident is believed to have occurred on Sunday in the sea between Libya and Sicily when a commercial vessel approached to rescue the migrant boat. The vessel arrived in Catania on Tuesday and the survivors disembarked.
The weekend saw a dramatic increase in rescues as smugglers in Libya took advantage of calm seas and warm weather to send thousands of would-be refugees out into the Mediterranean in overloaded rubber boats and fishing vessels.
The Coast Guard reported rescuing nearly 7 000 in a three-day span that ended Sunday.
The deaths, if confirmed, come on top of the estimated 800 migrants who drowned last month when their boat capsized off Libya with hundreds of passengers locked in the hold by smugglers.
A few days earlier, a further 400 people were feared drowned in another capsizing.
After the deaths, the European Union held an emergency summit and agreed to contribute more boats and patrol aircraft to Mediterranean rescue efforts.