Around 100 people are feared drowned in the Mediterranean Sea after a dinghy capsized off Libya, according to rescue teams frantically searching for survivors in darkness and rough seas.
Rescuers and the Italian coastguard said on Tuesday that they had recovered seven bodies.
According to German NGO Jugend Rettet, which has a boat in the Mediterranean, 23 survivors had been rescued by an oil tanker which was first to reach the stricken dinghy.
Sad news from board.. Stay strong everyone! pic.twitter.com/onDawHdtok
— Jugend RETTET – IUVENTA (@jugendrettet) November 15, 2016
The survivors and four of the recovered bodies were transferred from the tanker to the Aquarius, a boat operated by another charity group, SOS Mediterranee.
A survivor told one of that organisation’s staff that the dinghy had begun to sink at 6am, four hours before the arrival of the tanker.
“We were 122 on the boat, no children under 15, but there were 10 women travelling with us and only one survived,” the recued man was quoted as saying.
“We waited in the water, taking any floating thing to remain afloat, but most of the people drowned, including my little brother. He was 15.
“At 10, the tanker came and rescued us. I want to call home to tell them that my brother died.”
Attempts to find any survivors were continuing but were being hampered by very rough conditions and the chances of finding anyone alive appeared slim.
The latest tragedy came a day after the sinking of another dinghy in the Mediterranean.
Officials with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Tuesday that dozens of people probably died before the merchant ship reached that dinghy, which was of a type that would normally have 100-150 passengers packed on board.
Only 15 people managed to survive, and on Tuesday they were on board an Italilan coastguard ship en route to the Sicilian port of Catania.
Exactly how many people died will not be known until the ship’s arrival in Catania, but it would be unusual for traffickers to set sail from Libya with as few as 15 people on board.
The coastguard said a total of 298 people were rescued in three operations on Tuesday, taking the total rescued since Saturday to 2,600.
The latest deaths add to a total of 4,271 mostly African people who have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, according to the UN refugee agency.
This year is already the deadliest on record for migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe, with uncertainty about the situation in conflict-torn Libya fuelling a higher number of departures in difficult weather conditions at the onset of winter.