CAIRO: A boat carrying dozens of migrants bound for Europe capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya, with at least 40 people missing and presumed drowned, United Nations officials said, as a support group reported it had gotten a call from someone on the vessel “crying and shouting” that passengers had died already.
At least 65 migrants, mostly from Sudan, were rescued, said Ayoub Gassim, a spokesman for Libya’s coast guard, with a search halted for those still missing.
The coast guard gave a lower estimate for those missing and feared drowned, saying it was 15 to 20 people.
Gassim told The Associated Press that five people were confirmed dead, including a woman and a child from Morocco whose bodies were recovered near the western town of Khoms, around 120 kilometers east of Tripoli. The other dead were men from Morocco, Sudan and Somalia.
The shipwreck was the latest maritime disaster involving migrants seeking a better life in Europe.
One month ago, up to 150 Europe-bound migrants, including women and children, were missing and feared drowned when two boats carrying about 300 people capsized off Libya.
In January, 17 died or were missing off Libya and in May, about 65 drowned when their boat sank off Tunisia.
“If today’s tragic numbers are confirmed, the number of people drowned in the Mediterranean in 2019 will have reached close to 900,” said Charlie Yaxley, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency, who gave the estimate of at least 40 dead or missing, among them women and children, based on eyewitness accounts of the survivors.
The UN’s migration agency said a total of 859 migrants have died in the Mediterranean as of August 22. It said 45,505 people have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, which represents a 30-percent drop from 2018.
Alarm Phone, an independent support group for people crossing the Mediterranean, said about 100 were aboard the capsized vessel.
The group said it received a call from migrants on the boat, who “were in severe distress, crying and shouting, telling us that people had died already.” Libya’s coast guard says it has intercepted hundreds of migrants at sea so far in August.