Dozens of migrants dead off Libya: coastguard

A large wooden vessel carrying between 700 and 1,000 people were packed on three levels.

Migrants gesture towards members of Proactiva Open Arms NGO as they wait to be rescued in the Mediterranean sea, some 12 nautical miles north of Libya, on October 4, 2016. At least 1,800 migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast, the Italian coastguard announce. Aris Messinis/AFP
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ABOARD THE ASTRAL, ITALY // At least 32 migrants bound for Europe were found dead on a day of frantic rescues off Libya on Tuesday.,

At least 29 died in a crush aboard an overcrowded rubber dinghy while three more died on larger wooden vessel carrying between 700 and 1,000 people packed on three levels. A photographer who was able to go aboard said many of the dead appeared to have suffocated.

The Italian coastguard — which is coordinating rescue efforts in international waters north of Libya — said that 28 bodies had been recovered over the course of 33 operations during Tuesday while 4,655 migrants had been rescued. More than 6,000 were picked up the day before, most of them Africans in packed rubber dinghies, in which nine bodies were found.

Those on the wooden boat were rescued by the Astral, a ship chartered by Spanish NGO ProActiva Open Arms, which helps with migrant rescues at sea.

It was yet another day of drama at sea after more than 6,000 migrants, most of them Africans in packed rubber dinghies, were rescued off Libya on Monday. Nine bodies were found in those operations.

With numerous rescue boats en route to Italy to unload that human cargo, it was largely left to the Astral to help those on the overcrowded wooden boat, aided by lifeboats dropped by a Spanish military plane.

There was panic, with many people jumping into the water, according to the photographer.

The latest rescues bring the total of migrants landing in Italy’s southern ports this year to about 132,000. The new arrivals are mostly Africans who plan to try to get to northern Europe but increasingly are obliged to seek asylum or the right to remain in Italy, where reception centres have been strained to bursting point.

* Agence France-Presse