More than 100 migrants and refugees are feared to have drowned after a rubber boat capsized off the coast of Libya, a rescue charity said, adding there was little hope of finding survivors.
European humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee said on Thursday that the boat, with 130 people on board, was reported in distress on Wednesday in international waters off Libya in addition to two other boats.
A rescue effort, with the NGO’s Ocean Viking and three merchant vessels, was launched.
“Since we arrived on scene today, we have not found any survivors while we could see at least 10 bodies in the vicinity of the wreck. We are heartbroken,” said Luisa Albera, the search-and-rescue coordinator on board the Ocean Viking.
Eugenio Ambrosi, the chief of staff of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that at least 100 lives were lost in the incident that took place in the Central Mediterranean.
“These are the human consequences of policies which fail to uphold international law and the most basic of humanitarian imperatives,” he wrote on Twitter.
The shipwreck was the latest along the Central Mediterranean migration route, where about 350 migrants have died this year.
Since 2014, more than 20,000 migrants and refugees have died at sea while trying to reach Europe from Africa.
More than 17,000 of those have been on the Central Mediterranean which is described by the UN as the most dangerous migration route in the world.
Libya descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
In the years since the uprising, Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants. Human smugglers based in Libya launch vessels, many of them flimsy rubber dinghies or rickety fishing boats, crowded with migrants who hope to reach European shores to seek asylum.
States stood defiant and refused to act to save the lives of more than 100 people.
They pleaded and sent distress calls for two days before they drowned in the blue #Mediterranean cemetery.
Is this Europe’s legacy? pic.twitter.com/PBamGNEspi
— Safa Msehli (@msehlisafa) April 23, 2021
Thousands have drowned along the way, while others have ended up detained in squalid smugglers’ pens or crowded detention centres.
The European Union has reportedly spent more than 90 million euros ($109m) in funding and training the Libyan coastguard to stop the crossings.
An Associated Press investigation revealed the EU sent more than 327.9 million euros ($397.9m) to Libya, largely channelled through UN agencies.
“States abandon their responsibility to coordinate Search and Rescue operations, leaving private actors and civil society to fill the deadly void they leave behind. We can see the result of this deliberate inaction in the sea around our ship,” said an SOS Mediterranee statement.