70 migrants feared missing off Malta

Some 70 African migrants are feared missing in the central Mediterranean after a large rubber dinghy taking them to Europe capsized, the Malta representative of the UN refugee agency said yesterday.

A Maltese fishing boat rescued eight migrants 55 miles south of Malta yesterday, and the crew were told the group had originally numbered 78, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) representative Neil Falzon said.

Falzon said the survivors, whom he interviewed at a detention centre, said they had set sail from Libya on Thursday last week but their dinghy had started taking in water, and capsized on Monday.

A Maltese fishing boat found the eight survivors on the half submerged dinghy early yesterday.

Falzon said the survivors came from Togo and Ghana, but the missing migrants also included people from Somalia and Ethiopia.

A Maltese military plane searched for the missing migrants for most of yesterday but found no trace of them.

But the Times of Malta website reported that a Malta-based German helicopter on patrol had sighted three bodies late in the afternoon in the area where the rescue took place.

Some 2,000 African migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Malta so far this year, almost twice as many as last year.

Most arrive in groups of about 30 in wooden or fibreglass boats but several groups of more than 70 have arrived aboard dinghies.