82 bodies wash ashore after refugee boat sinks off Libya

Belongings of dead migrants, which were later recovered by the Libyan coast guard, are seen after the boat the refugees were on sank off the coastal town of Zuwara, west of Tripoli, on Thursday.
Belongings of dead migrants, which were later recovered by the Libyan coast guard, are seen after the boat the refugees were on sank off the coastal town of Zuwara, west of Tripoli, on Thursday.PHOTO: REUTERS

About 100 remain missing while 198 have been rescued by Libyan officials

TRIPOLI • At least 82 migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia died when their packed boat sank off Libya's coast, with about 100 still missing, while the Austrian authorities raised to 71 the number of refugees found dead in the back of an abandoned freezer truck.

A Red Crescent official said yesterday that 82 bodies had washed ashore after the sinking, and about 100 were still missing.

The official, Mr Ibrahim al-Attoushi, added that 198 migrants had been rescued. Many of the migrants on board had been trapped in the hold when the boat capsized, officials said.

Lacking proper navy ships, Libyan officials were searching for survivors yesterday with boats provided by fishermen. "We, the Red Crescent, work with nothing. Some fishermen helped us with a boat," said Mr Attoushi. "We have only one ambulance car."

A security official in the western Libyan town of Zuwara, from where the boat set off, said there had been around 400 on board.

Libyan officials brought 147 of the survivors to a detention facility for illegal migrants, a Libyan security official said, asking not to be named. The migrants were from sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan, Syria, Morocco and Bangladesh, he said.

Zuwara, near the Tunisian border, is a major launchpad for smugglers shipping migrants to Italy. Libya is a major transit route for migrants hoping to make it to Europe.

In Hungary, three people were arrested in connection with the truck deaths of the 71 migrants, including four children, who were found on an Austrian highway, the Austrian police said yesterday.

At a news conference in the town of Eisenstadt, Mr Hans Peter Doskozil, police chief for the province of Burgenland, said a Syrian travel document had been found among the victims, but that it was too early to say from which countries the entire group had come.

Of the 71 dead, 59 were men, eight were women, and four were children, including a girl estimated to be one to two years old and three boys who were roughly eight to 10 years of age.

"Mr Doskozil said there were 'signs' a Bulgarian-Hungarian trafficker ring was behind the deaths.

Of the three people arrested in Hungary, one was Bulgarian-Lebanese, another Bulgarian and the third of Hungarian nationality.

The refrigerated truck was found by an Austrian motorway patrol abandoned near the Hungarian border just before lunchtime on Thursday, with fluids from the decomposing bodies seeping from its back door. The truck, which had Hungarian plates, is believed to have been parked on the highway for at least 24 hours before it was discovered.

Police were confronted by an overpowering stench and a mass of tangled limbs in the truck, and forensic experts worked all night to clear the vehicle. The state of the corpses suggested they had been dead for some time. TV images showed flies buzzing around the back of the truck in the baking sun.

Both tragedies were a result of a renewed surge in migrants seeking refuge that has confronted Europe since World War II. The number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean has passed 300,000 this year, up from 219,000 in the whole of last year, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said yesterday.

More than 2,500 people have died making the crossing this year, it said. That compares with 3,500 who died or went missing in the Mediterranean last year.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline '82 bodies wash ashore after refugee boat sinks off Libya'. Print Edition | Subscribe