The boat sank 40 miles off the coast of Sfax in Tunisia GoogleMaps

Dozens of migrants feared dead after boat sinks off Tunisian coast

The boat was travelling from Libya to Italy.

A BOAT CARRYING around 70 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa has sunk in the Mediterranean, leaving at least 50 people dead, Tunisian officials have said. 

The bodies of three people who drowned in the accident were found today, a spokesman for the Tunisian defence ministry said, adding the boat left Zuwara on the northwestern Libyan coast yesterday. 

A fishing boat has picked up 16 survivors, who were transferred on board one of three military vessels involved in the search and rescue operation, said the spokesman Mohamed Zekri.

A Maltese helicopter was also mobilised, he said.

According to the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 50 people have died. 

According to those rescued between 60 to 70 people from sub-Saharan Africa were thought to be on board the boat, which was travelling to Italy, Zekri added.

Interior ministry spokesman Sofiene Zaag said however around 75 people were believed to have been on board the boat bound for Italy when it departed Libya.

Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has vowed to close the country’s ports to migrants, although earlier today dozens who had been rescued at sea disembarked in Sicily.

Rome’s populist government has taken an increasingly hard line on migration, and Salvini, head of the anti-immigrant League party, last month signed a new directive banning charity vessels from rescuing migrants off Libya.

The Mediterranean is the “world’s deadliest sea crossing” according to the United Nations refugee agency, with one person in 14 dying on the route from Libya to Europe last year.

The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights NGO denounced in a statement what it said were the European Union’s “restrictive and inhumane policies” which it said led to the latest “human tragedy”.

Libya, which has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi, has long been a major transit route for people desperate to reach Europe.

These latest deaths bring to 493 the total for 2019 to date, with 307 reported on the Central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy, according to the IOM. This compares with 620 deaths confirmed during the same period in 2018, including 383 deaths on the Libya-Italy route.

Over the past week, and despite a surge in violence following the launch of an assault on Tripoli by strongman Khalifa Haftar, Libyan authorities have rescued hundreds of migrants stranded at sea.

© AFP 2019 with reporting from Associated Press

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel