Dozens saved from sinking boat

Dozens saved from sinking boat
A survivor of a boat carrying migrants that sunk in the Mediterranean during the night of May 9 and 10, rests at a shelter in the Tunisian coastal city of Zarzis on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 12 May 2019

Dozens saved from sinking boat

Dozens saved from sinking boat
  • The survivors said they spent eight hours trapped in the cold sea before they were spotted by the fishermen who alerted the Tunisian coast guard, Slim said
  • Nearly 70 migrants in Mediterranean Sea — mostly Bangladeshis — died on Thursday after their boat capsized

VALLETTA, MALTA, TUNIS: A Maltese patrol boat rescued a group of 85 migrants late on Friday night and brought them to Malta on Saturday morning.
The migrants, believed to be from North and East Africa, were in a sinking wooden boat, the army said.
Earlier, around 70 migrants — most of them from Bangladesh — died after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea after it left Libya for Italy, the Tunisian Red Crescent said on Saturday.
Survivors told the Red Crescent the tragedy unfolded after some people who had left Zuwara on the northwestern Libyan coast late Thursday on a large boat were transferred to a smaller one that sank off Tunisia.
“The migrants were transferred into a smaller inflatable boat which was overloaded, and 10 minutes later it sank,” Mongi Slim, a Red Crescent official in the southern Tunisian town of Zarzis, told AFP.
Tunisian fishermen rescued some of them and brought them to shore in Zarzis.
The survivors said they spent eight hours trapped in the cold sea before they were spotted by the fishermen who alerted the Tunisian coast guard, Slim said.
The bodies of three people were plucked out of the waters on Friday, the Tunisian Defense Ministry said.
Survivors said the boat was heading to Italy and had on board only men, 51 from Bangladesh, as well as three Egyptians, several Moroccans, Chadians and other Africans. Fourteen Bangladeshi nationals, including a minor, were among the survivors, said the Red Crescent.
“If the Tunisian fishermen hadn’t seen them (the migrants), there wouldn’t have been any survivors and we would have never known about this” boat sinking, said Slim.
Charity ships have plied the Mediterranean Sea to rescue migrants in large numbers but the number of rescue operations have dwindled as these vessels have been condemned, namely from the populist Italian government, over their actions.
Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has imposed a “closed ports” policy, refusing to allow migrants rescued at sea to enter his country.
On Friday, however, more than 60 migrants disembarked in Italy after two boats which had left Libya faced difficulties at sea and needed assistance.
The UN agency for refugees, the UNHCR, called for stepped up search and rescue operations to avoid future tragedies in the Mediterranean, which it calls the “world’s deadliest sea crossing.”
“Across the region we need to strengthen the capacity of search and rescue operations,” said Vincent Cochetel, the agency’s special envoy for the Mediterranean.
“If we don’t act now, we’re almost certain to see more tragic events in the coming weeks and months,” he warned.
According to the UNHCR, the journey across the Mediterranean “is becoming increasingly fatal for those who risk it.”
It said: “In the first four months of this year, one person has died (crossing the Mediterranean) for every three that have reached European shores, after departing from Libya.”
Malta has spearheaded EU efforts to share migrants rescued in the central Mediterranean among several member states after rescue ships were refused entry by Italy.
The EU’s commissioner responsible for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, visited Malta on Tuesday and praised the island for its response to irregular migration across the Mediterranean.
“Without a doubt, Malta is facing great migration challenges compared to the size of the population,” Avramopoulos said.
“Overall, at the EU level we have returned to pre-crisis levels of irregular arrivals, but in Malta arrivals increased in 2018 due to search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean and the volatile and precarious situation in Libya.”
Malta took in 108 migrants in March after its soldiers stormed a small tanker which authorities say had been hijacked by three teenagers, one from Ivory Coast and two from Guinea, who tried to force the boat to take them to Malta and not back to Libya after it had rescued them and other migrants.
The three are now in a Maltese juvenile jail awaiting trial. They have pleaded not guilty.
Another group of 87 migrants was also rescued by a Maltese patrol boat and brought to Malta later that month.