300 migrants feared drowned off Libya
Tripoli, March 31, 2009
More than 300 African migrants are feared to have drowned after their boats capsized off the coast of Libya, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday.
Up to three vessels lacking lifeboats are believed to have sunk off Libya in heavy winds as they headed for Italy, while a fourth boat in difficulty was towed to shore, IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said.
"Up to three boats appear to have sunk off the Libyan coast. These boats have no life-saving material on board. It would seem that more than 300 people have disappeared at sea," Chauzy told Reuters in Geneva.
"They were not at swimming distance from shore," he said. IOM was not aware of any survivors aboard the three boats.
The boats sank near oil platforms off Libya's coast, but the exact timing of the incidents was not clear. Laurence Hart, head of the IOM's programme for migrants in Tripoli, reported that Libyan authorities had confirmed a "tragedy".
In Tripoli, Libyan officials said late on Monday that two boats carrying African migrants to Italy had sunk off Libya in separate incidents over the past two days, killing at least 21 people and leaving hundreds missing.
There are an estimated 1-1.5 million African irregular migrants in Libya, drawn by the need for unskilled labour according to IOM. Most come from West Africa, including Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria and Ivory Coast, or from Horn of Africa countries led by Somalia and Ethiopia.
"An unknown percentage of them continue their migratory voyage towards Europe. They save their money in Libya to pay off networks of traffickers," Chauzy said.
"These people must have been heading to Lampedusa," he added, referring to the Italian island where 37,000 migrants arrived last year, most after setting off from the Libyan coast. - Reuters