More than 100 migrants feared dead after dinghy capsizes off Libya

The rubber dinghy sank in the Mediterranean after leaving Libya, prompting the Italian navy to stage a rescue operation.

Survivors from a rubber dinghy that capsized off Libya fear that more than 100 migrants may have died, a rescue official has said.

The fragile vessel left the North African country two days ago and it sank in the Mediterranean, prompting the Italian navy to stage a rescue operation.

But Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said that so far only three of the apparently 120 migrants had been found alive.

“The three survivors told us they were 120 when they left Garabulli, in Libya, on Thursday night,” he said.

“After 10 to 11 hours at sea, the boat started sinking and people started drowning.”

“Ten women including a pregnant girl were aboard and two children, one of whom was only two months old.”

An Italian military plane first spotted the sinking dinghy as it struggled in rough waters, and threw two safety rafts into the water before retreating due to a lack of fuel.

Later, another helicopter was dispatched from a naval ship and recovered the three survivors, who were suffering from severe hypothermia and were taken to a hospital on the island of Lampedusa.

Rear Admiral Fabio Agostini told Italian TV channel RaiNews24 that at least three people were seen in the water during the rescue, all of whom appeared to be dead.

Libyan authorities have also ordered a merchant ship to go to the scene of the sinking, but it left after its search for more survivors proved fruitless.

Before the incident on Thursday, the IOM had reported 83 deaths as a result of people trying to cross the Mediterranean already this year.

It said the number of migrants and refugees landing on European shores had almost doubled in the first 16 days of 2019 to 4,216, compared to 2,365 over the same period in 2018.

At least 2,297 migrants died or went missing in the Mediterranean last year.

In response to the latest incident, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said: “As long as European ports will remain open, sea-traffickers will continue to do business and kill people”.

The country has closed its ports to humanitarian vessels since its populist government came to power in June.

Last summer, Mr Salvini, leader of the anti-migrant League, faced an investigation over his refusal to allow dozens of migrants stranded aboard a ship in Sicily to disembark.

(skynews)

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