2 shipwrecks in a day off Libyan coast claim almost 100 lives

Migrants who survived a deadly shipwreck off the coast of Libya last Thursday waiting on the beach for assistance. The incident was one of two on the same day. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Migrants who survived a deadly shipwreck off the coast of Libya last Thursday waiting on the beach for assistance. The incident was one of two on the same day. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KHOMS (Libya) • Twenty migrants have died in a shipwreck off the Libyan coast, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said, taking to almost 100 the death toll from two such Mediterranean tragedies on the same day.

MSF teams in the north-western city of Sorman "assisted three women as the lone survivors of another shipwreck (on Thursday) where 20 people drowned", the group said in a tweet on Friday.

"Rescued by local fishermen, they were in shock and terrified; they saw loved ones disappear beneath the waves, dying in front of their eyes," MSF said.

Earlier that day, the UN's International Organisation for Migration reported "a devastating shipwreck which claimed the lives of at least 74 migrants today off the coast of Khoms", a port city east of Sorman.

It said 47 survivors had been brought back to shore and 31 bodies retrieved, adding that the boat was reported to be carrying more than 120 people.

Seven women were among the survivors, Mr Mokhtar Salem Mohamed from Libya's interior ministry told Agence France-Presse at a migrants centre in Khoms, some 120km east of the capital Tripoli.

Bodies from that shipwreck were lined up grimly along the beach on Thursday, some still wearing life jackets.

Traumatised survivors sat in shock on the shore, while others huddled under blankets as aid workers distributed food parcels.

One of the migrants told AFP of the tragedy.

"Our boat sailed from an area near Tripoli two days ago," said Mr Koni Hassan, from Ghana, adding that the engine "broke down yesterday" resulting in the shipwreck. "There were 120 people on board... many have died," he added.

The two shipwrecks sparked calls for an end to the conflict in Libya, where human traffickers have taken advantage of persistent violence since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

The oil-rich North African country has become a key embarkation point for migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, attempting death-defying voyages to Europe to flee war and poverty at home.

While many have drowned at sea, thousands have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard, which has been backed by Italy and the European Union, and returned to Libya.

They mostly end up in detention, often in horrific conditions.

The US embassy to Tripoli said the shipwrecks amounted to "another horrific migrant tragedy - another reminder of the need for a settlement to the #Libya conflict now in order to focus on the prevention of tragedies like this".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 15, 2020, with the headline '2 shipwrecks in a day off Libyan coast claim almost 100 lives'. Print Edition | Subscribe