Migrant crisis: Hundreds trapped in holds feared dead after two boats capsize off Libyan coast

Libyan coastguard said around 200 people had been rescued

Rose Troup Buchanan
Friday 28 August 2015 16:05 BST
Body bags containing some of the people killed after two smugglers' boats capsized are brought ashore
Body bags containing some of the people killed after two smugglers' boats capsized are brought ashore (Reuters)

Hundreds of people are feared dead after being trapped in the holds of two boats that capsized off the Libyan coast en route to Italy late on Thursday night.

It appears as many as 500 people were on one of the vessels, while another – which capsized earlier – had around 50 mostly African migrants, according to an official in the Libyan coastal town of Zuwara where the boats had disembarked.

Although Libyan officials claimed as many as 200 had been rescued before the boats sank, it is believed that scores more were trapped within the ships when they sank. The larger boat was towed back to Zuwara on Friday, with crews working to find people still inside the vessels.

At least 100 bodies have been taken to a hospital in Zuwara, a resident told the BBC. Rescuers have reportedly pulled 82 bodies from the waters off the coast.

The resident suggested victims were from sub-Saharan Africa, Syria, Pakistan, Morocco and Bangladesh, but this information could not be verified.

A Red Crescent official confirmed that 198 people had been rescued from the two boats.

Meanwhile, 147 people were detained in one of Libya’s notorious detention centres in Sabratha, west of Tripoli, according to an official from the centre.

The Italian coastguard, which since the European Union withdrew funding for wider rescue missions has grappled with increasing numbers of migrants, could not immediately confirm the incident.

The Libyan coastguard is also massively overstretched, relying on small tugs, former fishing boats and inflatables.

Zuwara has become one of the main launching points for desperate people attempting to flee instability in African nations and the Middle East.

As many as 2,300 people have died attempting the journey this year alone, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

The tragedy comes amid news that at least 70 bodies have been discovered in a truck in Austria, near the Hungarian border. The dead – also believed to be migrants – are suspected to have been victims of smuggling.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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