At least 32 migrants dead off Libya: coastguard

UPDATED: At least 32 Europe-bound migrants were found dead on a day of frantic rescues off Libya on Tuesday, an AFP photographer on board one of the rescue boats said.

At least 32 migrants dead off Libya: coastguard
Migrants await rescue off the Libyan coast on Tuesday. Photo: Aris MessinisAFP

The photographer said on Wednesday that at least 29 people had died in a crush on board a overcrowded rubber dinghy and that three had died on a bigger wooden vessel that was carrying between 700 and 1,000 people.

The Italian coastguard – which is coordinating rescue efforts in international waters north of Libya – said late on Tuesday that 28 bodies had been recovered over the course of 33 operations on Tuesday, while 4,655 migrants had been rescued.

The photographer, Aris Messinis, was travelling on the Astral, a ship chartered by Spanish NGO ProActiva Open Arms, which helps with migrant rescues at sea.

Towards 2000 GMT the Astral rescuers moved back to allow the Italian navy to take care of the survivors and retrieve the bodies, the photographer said.

Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP

The deaths came after the Italian coastguard – which is coordinating rescue efforts in international waters north of Libya – said at least 1,800 migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast on Tuesday.

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, including a pregnant woman.

'Panic onboard'

Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP

The Italian coastguard said operations had been carried out on Tuesday to bring migrants to safety from some 30 packed boats.

With numerous rescue boats en route to Italy to unload the huge human cargo collected on Monday, Messinis said the Astral was left alone to deal with the overloaded wooden boat for several hours.

It was aided only by lifeboats dropped by a Spanish military plane until the navy arrived at midday.

“There was panic onboard, there were people jumping into the water,” Messinis said.

A mother holds her child after the rescue. Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP

The Astral's rescue operations had begun before dawn and lasted until nightfall.

The latest people to be rescued will add to a total of some 132,000 migrants who have landed at Italy's southern ports so far this year, fleeing conflict, poverty or persecution and hoping to start new lives in Europe.

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.

Nine dead as Italy rescues 6,055 migrants on disaster anniversary
Migrants aboard rubber dinghies during a previous rescue operation. File photo: AFP