Thousands of migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean in recent years
Thousands of migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean in recent years

An aid group has blamed both Libya's coast guard and Italy's interior minister for the deaths of a woman and child in a stricken raft. Libya and Italy reject the accusations.

Spanish sea rescue charity Proactiva Open Arms said on Tuesday it had found one woman alive, clinging to the wreckage of a destroyed migrant boat about 80 nautical miles off the Libyan coast.

They also found two people who had died: another woman and a boy aged about five.

Proactiva Open Arms posted images and videos of the wreckage and victims on social media, blaming Libya's coast guard, along with a merchant ship sailing nearby, for failing to help the migrants.

On Twitter, the organization's founder Oscar Camps accused the Libyan coast guard of destroying the boat and abandoning the trio at sea because they did not want to board the Libyan ship along with some 158 other intercepted migrants.

Libya's coast guard responds

Various spokespeople for Libya's coast guard disputed that account. Tawfiq al-Sakir told German news agency dpa that no one was left behind. In a statement, the coast guard defended its rescue efforts, saying they were carried out in accordance with international standards.

"All disasters happening in the sea are caused by human traffickers who are only interested in profit and the presence of such irresponsible, non-governmental groups in the region." Ayoub Gassim said.

Political blame

Later on Tuesday, Camps also blamed Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, whose government has vowed to stop people fleeing war or poverty from coming to Italy by crossing the Mediterranean via Libya, a key route for human traffickers. Italy's government has been working to support Libya's coast guard.

Salvini rejected the criticism.

"Lies and incults from some foreign NGOs confirm that we are right. Reducing the departures and disembarkations means reducing deaths and reducing the earnings of those who speculate on clandestine migration," he wrote on Facebook.

Ports closed to migrant rescue ships

Italy and Malta have closed their ports to aid groups operating migrant rescue boats in the Mediterranean. Proactiva Open Arms was among them – this month it had to take the 60 people it had rescued to Barcelona instead.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported Tuesday that the number of migrants reaching Spain by sea this year has overtaken arrivals to Italy.

IOM records show more than 1,440 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean so far this year attempting to reach Europe.

According to an AFP photographer on board the Proactiva Open Arms, the boat was headed north Tuesday night carrying the survivor and two bodies, hoping to find a European port it was allowed to disembark at.

se/aw (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)

First published: July 18, 2018

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