More Migrants Lost at Sea in Latest Mediterranean Tragedy

Italy -  More migrants are missing and likely drowned in the Mediterranean after another overloaded vessel sank off the Libyan coast this week. This latest shipwreck occurred on Wednesday, a day after IOM announced that over 2,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe in 2015.

The latest tragedy occurred approximately 16 miles north of Libya in the Channel of Sicily. The Italian Coast Guard received a distress call from a trawler in difficulty. Libya and the Italian Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (MRCC) immediately dispatched two vessels to the area – the Irish vessel “LÉ Niamh” and the MSF-operated “Dignity 1” ship. Italian navy and other vessels followed.

“LÉ Niamh” was the first to arrive at the scene and deployed two smaller rescue boats to facilitate the rescue operations. Unfortunately the migrants on the trawler rushed to the side of the boat closest to the Irish vessel. The 20-25 metre vessel then capsized and sank rapidly. Migrants on the upper deck were thrown into the water and others were trapped below decks. Some people managed to stay afloat – many others are believed to have drowned.

“LÉ Niamh” rescued 367 migrants and recovered the bodies of another 25. A further six injured migrants were airlifted from the scene by the Italian navy to receive medical assistance. The 367, including 342 men, 12 women and 13 children, reached the Sicilian port of Palermo yesterday (6/8) afternoon.

Search and rescue operations continued through the night and into the early hours of Thursday, involving the “Dignity One” and the Italian ships “Fiorillo”, “Mimbelli”, “Sirio”, “Fusco”, “Bourbon Argos” and “Phoenix.” Warm sea temperatures increased the likelihood of finding survivors, but no other migrants were found, either alive or dead.

The 367 survivors rescued by the “LÉ Niamh” were met by IOM staff in Palermo yesterday. The migrants, who included some 150 Bangladeshis, as well as sub-Saharan Africans, Eritreans and Syrians, said there were between 650 and 700 migrants aboard the trawler when it sank.

The survivors told IOM staff that up to 250 people had been forced to sit in the hold – the most dangerous part of the ship. Those who could not get out in time would have drowned almost immediately. They also noted the significant number of Syrians on board, many of them travelling with young children.

According to the survivors, the vessel got into distress after water started flooding the hold. People in the hold tried to get to the deck, smugglers (allegedly Moroccans or Tunisians armed with knives) blocked their escape.  

“When the boat started to have problems, the smugglers called their people in Libya to ask if they could come back, but were told to continue to Italy,” said one of the survivors. 

“This latest maritime tragedy proves that, while extremely laudable, the search and rescue operations at sea cannot be the sole European response to this humanitarian disaster. Even though the majority of incidents occurred before the enhancement of the Triton Operation, this incident shows that as long as there are no safe alternatives for migrants, criminal gangs will continue to pack people into unseaworthy vessels and we can expect more tragedies,” said IOM Italy Chief of Mission Federico Soda.

“Search and rescue operations at sea must be part of a wider and more holistic approach to the issue of irregular migration. We must do more to understand and act upon the key drivers of human mobility and the underlying causes of the most significant movement of people since the end of World War II. There is much work to be done, and it needs to be done sooner rather than later, or we will continue to witness similar tragedies at sea and on land,” said IOM Director General William Lacy Swing.

IOM estimates that, this year through 6 August, over 192,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea. Italy has recorded 98,369 arrivals and Greece 91,469.

For more information, please contact Flavio Di Giacomo at IOM Italy. Tel: +39 347 089 8996, Email: