381 rescued after boat carrying over 600 migrants capsizes off Libya

Italian coast guard says 381 migrants have been rescued after 600 on board of wooden boat capsized 11 miles off Libya • 100 were in the hull; over 202 unaccounted for

Azeel, aged only one, was saved by her father as she fell off the boat and went underwater. Photo: @msf_italia
Azeel, aged only one, was saved by her father as she fell off the boat and went underwater. Photo: @msf_italia
Shipwreck 15 miles off Libyan coast. Courtesy: IOM
Shipwreck 15 miles off Libyan coast. Courtesy: IOM

Some 202 undocumented migrants are unaccounted for after a wooden boat carrying some 600 migrants capsized off Libya.

At 6pm on Wednesday, reports came in that some 400 had been been rescued in the mission being coordinated by the Italian coastguard.

The Irish Navy feared "significant loss of life" while Médècins sans Frontières reported "many deaths".

The CP904 Fiorillo, an Italian coast guard vessel, took aboard all 381 rescued migrants to Italy.

The Italian coast guard said that a distress signal was recieved earlier Wednesday morning. The Irish naval vessel LÉ Niamh arrived on the scene at 11:44am, when hundreds of migrants on board rushed to one side of the boat, throwing the boat off-balance.

The Italian coast guard then redirected an Italian coast guard ship, the MOAS's Phoenix, the Médècins sans Frontières's Dignity, merchant vessel Bourbon Argos, and two Italian navy ships, to the scene of the disaster: a total of seven ships now involved in the rescue.

A spokesperson for the Maltese government told MaltaToday that the Italian coast guard was offered the assistance of the AFM's P61 patrol boat.

The Italian Coast Guard confirmed that the boat was carrying over 600 migrants, capsizing 15 miles off the Libyan coast. Irish military official Capt. Donal Gallagher told the Associated Press that some 150 migrants were spotted in the water Wednesday morning and that rescue efforts by several ships were underway. An Italian military helicopter was lowering life rafts.

"It's extremely windy and stormy in this area of Libya," the IOM's Leonard Doyle told the BBC.

Nawal Soufi, an Arabic-speaking Italian based in Sicily who is often contacted by migrants in distress, told AFP that she had taken a call earlier on Wednesday about a boat in trouble with 600 people on board. “It is probably the same boat,” Italian coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini said.

Earlier on Wednesday, MSF's Dignity 1 carried out another rescue of 94 people, including 15 women and a five-year-old boy, who were packed in a rubber dinghy.

The Irish Naval vessel LÉ Niamh, under the command of Lieut Cdr Daniel Wall, had rescued 1,280 migrants up to last Tuesday since taking over from the LÉ Eithne in the Mediterranean earlier this month.

In April 2015, some 850 migrants drowned in a single incident, leading to intensified efforts by EU leaders to provide assistance to migrants fleeing the Libyan unrest by boat.

The International Organisation for Migration says that the central Mediterranean route is the deadliest route for migrants. In the same period last year, 1,607 migrants died at sea - in 2014, 3,279 were killed attempting the journey.