At least 239 migrants drown in two shipwrecks off Libya

Members of Maltese NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) help people to board a small rescue boat during a rescue operation of migrants and refugees on Nov 3, 2016, off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea.
Members of Maltese NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) help people to board a small rescue boat during a rescue operation of migrants and refugees on Nov 3, 2016, off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea.PHOTO: AFP
The Topaz Responder ship takes part in a rescue operation of migrants and refugees on Nov 3, 2016, off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Topaz Responder ship takes part in a rescue operation of migrants and refugees on Nov 3, 2016, off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea.PHOTO: AFP
Migrants and refugees seated on a rubber boat grab life jackets thrown by members of the crew of the Topaz Responder rescue ship, off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea on Nov 3, 2016.
Migrants and refugees seated on a rubber boat grab life jackets thrown by members of the crew of the Topaz Responder rescue ship, off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea on Nov 3, 2016. PHOTO: AFP
Migrants and refugees panic as they fall in the water during a rescue operation of the Topaz Responder rescue ship, off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea on Nov 3, 2016.
Migrants and refugees panic as they fall in the water during a rescue operation of the Topaz Responder rescue ship, off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea on Nov 3, 2016.PHOTO: AFP
Migrants and refugees panic as they fall in the water during a rescue operation of the Topaz Responder rescue ship, off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea on Nov 3, 2016.
Migrants and refugees panic as they fall in the water during a rescue operation of the Topaz Responder rescue ship, off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea on Nov 3, 2016.PHOTO: AFP
Migrants and refugees sit on a rubber boat before to be rescued by the ship Topaz Responder off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea on Nov 3, 2016.
Migrants and refugees sit on a rubber boat before to be rescued by the ship Topaz Responder off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea on Nov 3, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (REUTERS) - At least 239 migrants, believed to be from West Africa, have died in two shipwrecks off Libya, a spokesman for the United Nations migration agency, said on Thursday (Nov 3).

One group of migrants, including about 20 women and six children, set off in a rubber dinghy from Libya around 3am on Wednesday (Nov 2), but their boat collapsed after a few hours, said Mr Flavio di Giacomo, a spokesman for the UN's International Organisation for Migration, who cited accounts by survivors.

By the time rescuers arrived, most had drowned. Twelve bodies were recovered, including three babies. About 27 survived.

Another two women reported surviving a separate disaster that happened at about the same time. Their rubber dinghy was carrying about 130 people.

The International Organisation for Migration said the latest deaths meant 4,220 lives had been lost in the Mediterranean so far this year, compared with 3,777 in the whole of 2015.

October saw a surge in migrant arrivals in Italy, with 27,388 arriving, more than the two previous Octobers combined, and bringing this year's total arrivals to over 158,000, Mr Di Giacomo said.

The smugglers who arrange the journeys have told migrants that European training of Libyan coastguards means the rescue missions will soon be handed over to Libya and any rescued migrants will be taken ashore in Libya rather than Italy, Mr Di Giacomo said.

That was possibly causing the rush to board boats now, he said, although the information, gleaned from rescued migrants, was not confirmed.