TEHRAN, May 24, YJC - At least 31 refugees have died in an incident where they fell off an overcrowded vessel off the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean Sea.
TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) -
Officials from an aid boat chartered by the Maltese NGO Moas said on Wednesday that the victims were among about 200 refugees who fell off the overloaded vessel just 20 nautical miles off the Libyan coast.
"Current body count at 31," said Chris Catrambone, a co-founder of Moas who was on board the Phoenix aid boat and published photos showing white body bags lined up on the deck.
Catrambone said hundreds were still trapped in the locked hold on the wooden boat, which reportedly was transporting between 500 and 700 people in the Mediterranean when the accident happened.
"Not a scene from a horror movie... Real life tragedy unfolding on Europe's doorstep today!," he said, adding that rescuers were "frantically” trying to break open the locked hold and save those trapped.
The Italian coast guard and several commercial ships also contributed to the rescue.
The Italians coordinate most of the operations in the Mediterranean. Also at the scene was a military aircraft, which dropped life-rafts while a helicopter was looking for survivors, Presstv reported.
Reports said the capsizing came after a wave knocked the vessel off balance. Others said the refugees shifted to one side of the boat at a certain point and about 200 of them ended up in the water.
The rescue was part of a broader operation that started on Tuesday. Some 1,700 people have been rescued in 15 relief operations in the Mediterranean over the past day.
Italy has reported an increase in the number of refugee arrivals this year as more and more people dare the risky journey from Libya to reach Europe’s shores. The increase is also due to a deal reached between the European Union and Turkey in March 2016, which significantly affected the flow in eastern Mediterranean. More than a million people had used the route to reach Greece before the agreement came into force.