#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 17°C Tuesday 3 August 2021

29 migrants die in toxic pool of fuel and seawater off coast of Libya

The horrific discovery was made yesterday by a Doctors without Borders (MSF) rescue ship.

25 People Found Dead & 246 Rescued By MSF People waiting to be rescued among the bodies of those that died on the dinghy Source: Borja Ruiz Rodriguez/MSF

THE AID GROUP Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières – MSF) says it has found the bodies of 29 migrants who perished in a pool of fuel and seawater on a crowded dinghy off the coat of Libya.

The find adds to the grim evidence of the hazards of crossing the Mediterranean – a journey that the UN said today has claimed more than 3,800 lives so far this year.

MSF said its chartered rescue ship, the Bourbon Argos, picked up 107 people aboard the inflatable boat 26 nautical miles off Libya yesterday.

Its crew initially counted 11 corpses on the dinghy’s floor, which was flooded with a murky mixture of fuel and seawater.

The Bourbon Argos was then called away to another rescue operation nearby, saving 139 people aboard another vessel.

The crew returned to the dinghy and found on closer examination that 29 people had died, probably from suffocation, skin burns or drowning.

25 People Found Dead & 246 Rescued By MSF People board the Bourbon Argos during a rescue operation Source: Borja Ruiz Rodriguez/MSF

The bodies were retrieved from the toxic mixture over a period of hours, with the help of a team from the German NGO Sea-Watch.

“The mixture of water and fuel was so foul that we could not stay on the boat for long periods. It was horrible,” MSF project leader Michele Telaro said in a statement.

‘Rush to the cemetery’

Twenty-three survivors suffered burns from exposure to fuel, 11 of whom were seriously hurt. Seven survivors were taken to hospital, two of them by helicopter.

The MSF team also provided psychological help to survivors, including a man who was left clutching his eight-month-old baby after his wife died.

“It’s a tragedy, but sadly one cannot say that this was an exceptional day in the Mediterranean,” said Stefano Argenziano, the man in charge of MSF’s migrant assistance activities.

Last week was terrible for our teams. They were engaged around the clock in rescue operations in which too many men, women and children lost their lives.

To venture out to sea in such conditions, said Argenziano bluntly, “is a headlong rush to the cemetery”.

25 People Found Dead & 246 Rescued By MSF MSF cultural mediator, Firas Hebili, walks between those rescued onboard the Bourbon Argos Source: Borja Ruiz Rodriguez/MSF


Meanwhile, earlier today, the Irish Defence Forces’ ship  LÉ Samuel Beckett itself rescued 122 migrants from a “rubber vessel” 37 miles offshore of Libya’s capital Tripoli.

The rescue operation began at 8am and lasted for four-and-a-half hours.

All of those rescued, who have been receiving food and medical treatment, will now transfer to the Italian ship VOS Hestia, which will transport them to port of safety in Italy.

29944645364_64702d64cf_h The LÉ Samuel Beckett's rescue operation off the Libyar coast this morning Source: Defence Forces

In Geneva, the UN’s refugee agency said fatalities on the Mediterranean migrant route had set a new, tragic record.

“We can confirm that at least 3,800 people have been reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean Sea so far this year, making the death toll in 2016 the highest ever recorded,” spokesman William Spindler told AFP in an email, as the figures passed last year’s mark of 3,771.

In Rome, Pope Francis pleaded on behalf of migrants and foreigners seeking a better life or safe haven abroad.

“Today, the context of economic crises unfortunately fosters the emergence of attitudes that are closed and unwelcoming,” he said in his Wednesday address in St. Peter’s Square.

In some parts of the world, walls and barricades are being erected. Closure (of borders) is not a solution, it ends up by encouraging trafficking. The only path towards a solution is that of solidarity.

Additional reporting Cianan Brennan

© – AFP, 2016

Read: Earthquake measuring 5.4 strikes central Italy

Read: ‘They are angry because the Jungle is finished and they cannot go to England’

About the author:


Read next: