Migrants on a small dinghy in the Mediterranean | Photo: Picture-alliance/L.Schmid/SOS Mediterranee
Migrants on a small dinghy in the Mediterranean | Photo: Picture-alliance/L.Schmid/SOS Mediterranee

A boat packed with over 100 migrants is feared to have sunk off the Libyan coast. A local fisherman contacted the distress hotline Alarmphone and said he rescued 3 people and saw many dead bodies in the water.

The still unconfirmed shipwreck is thought to have happened over the weekend. On Saturday night, a Libyan fisherman contacted the distress hotline Alarmphone to inform them he found 3 people (two women and one man) floating on the remains of a boat near Tripoli late Saturday afternoon. The fisherman also said he saw many bodies and pieces of wood in the water. According to the survivors, there had been over one hundred people on the boat.

'Fishermen often see dead bodies'

The fisherman rescued the migrants and brought them to the Libyan capital. An ambulance took them to a hospital, but according to the fisherman, the authorities did not retrieve the dead bodies or check whether there were other survivors, Alarmphone told InfoMigrants. "He also said this was very common and that fishermen would often see bodies in the sea and that authorities would not retrieve them," a spokesperson for Alarmphone said.

Libyan authorities reportedly said that they had no information on the shipwreck when Alarmphone contacted them on Sunday. It appears they have not actively searched the area for survivors, Alarmphone said. The International Organization for Migration, IOM, told InfoMigrants they had no confirmation of the shipwreck.

Not uncommon

"We have every reason to fear the worst – that over 100 lives were lost and nobody will ever know for sure," Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a statement on Twitter.

MSF also said that cases like these are "by no means uncommon." In a recent article published in the German magazine Der Spiegel, a Libyan coast guard commander estimated that half of the boats leaving Libya sink undetected and without survivors. "Boats that we cannot spot in time have no chance," Mustafa Abuzeid told Spiegel. Libya's coast guard, however, also has a record of abuses: It has reportedly hindered rescue operations and used force against migrants and helpers.

'Many tragedies go unnoticed' 

"It can be presumed that many tragedies go unnoticed," Alarmphone told InfoMigrants. 

Many migrants who go missing never make it into official statistics. The IOM's Missing Migrants Project database has recorded more than 15,000 deaths on the sea route between North Africa and Italy since 2014, yet according to a new report from the Global Migration Data Analysis Center (GMDAC), remains of fewer than 5,000 people have been found.

Of the bodies that have been recovered, very few are identified. The IOM says the net identification rates of recovered bodies in Italy and Malta between 1990 and 2013 were around 22 percent.

Libyan route

Libya is a hub for migrants and refugees, many of whom try to reach Europe in unseaworthy boats. Last month, a boat carrying about 250 people, mainly from Eritrea and other sub-Saharan and Arab countries, capsized off the coast near Koms, east of the capital Tripoli. While 134 people were rescued by Libya's coast guard and local fishermen, about 115 went missing. 

So far this year, 844 people are recorded to have died in the attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea. 


More articles