ROME // Around 40 migrants died when an inflatable boat carrying more than 100 people sank off the coast of Italy, according to survivors who spoke to Save the Children on Tuesday.
“They said there were 137 people aboard an inflatable boat that deflated or exploded – it wasn’t clear – and that some of them fell overboard. Some said ‘very many’ died, others said ‘around 40’,” the aid group’s Giovanna di Benedetto said.
The incident is believed to have occurred on Sunday in the sea between Libya and Sicily when a commercial vessel, the Zeran, approached the rubber boat to rescue the migrants. The survivors were brought on Tuesday to Catania on the east coast of Sicily, on the cargo ship Zeran, which also carried five bodies.
They were part of a group of close to 200 migrants who were on two separate boats which were rescued in recent days in waters off Sicily.
According to the survivors, the incident occurred shortly before the weekend’s rescue operations, in which the Italian navy and coastguard rescued nearly 6,000 people with the help of several merchant ships.
On Monday more than 3,000 migrants landed in southern Italian ports, including a baby girl born on board the Italian navy patrol ship Bettica.
Her mother had gone into labour just before leaving Libya aboard one of four barely seaworthy boats whose occupants were rescued by the Bettica.
The weekend saw a dramatic increase in rescues as smugglers in Libya took advantage of calm seas and warm weather to send thousands of would-be refugees out into the Mediterranean in overloaded rubber boats and fishing vessels. The coast guard reported that nearly 7,000 people were rescued in the three days ending Sunday.
More than 1,750 people are estimated to have died in the waters between Libya and Italy since the start of this year.
* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press