240 dead in shipwrecks off Libya according to UN refugee agency

Migrants pictured asking for help from a dinghy boat off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa earlier this year. Picture by Patrick Bar, SOS Mediterranee via Associated Press

THE UN refugee agency says survivor accounts indicate that as many as 240 people have died in two shipwrecks off Libya.

UNHCR spokeswoman in Italy Carlotta Sami said 31 survivors of two shipwrecks, who arrived on Thursday on the Italian island of Lampedusa, reported that their boats capsized in heavy seas.

Ms Sami said 29 people survived the first wreck, reporting that about 120 people had gone missing.

And in a separate operation, two women found swimming at sea told rescuers another 120 people had died in that wreck.

In both cases, most of the people on board appeared to have been sub-Saharan Africans, but Ms Sami said aid workers were still ascertaining details.

She said the latest reported deaths bring to over 4,220 the number of people dead or missing in the Mediterranean this year, the highest toll on record.

UNHCR emphasised that the number of dead was an estimate.

International agencies rely heavily on survivor accounts to tally the number of people dead or missing in the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean in smugglers' boats.

Often the boats sink in high seas, where it is difficult if not impossible to recover any bodies.

UNHCR said the increased number of deaths this year is partly due to the fact that smugglers are often using rubber dinghies, which are prone to deflating, capsizing and losing people who fall overboard.

In addition, more migrants are arriving with severe burns from being exposed to fuel mixed with sea water in the bottom of the dinghies. Smugglers are using rubber dinghies because they are cheaper and easier to obtain.


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