About 170 people are feared to have drowned in two separate shipwrecks in the Mediterranean. In one incident, a dinghy sank off the coast of Libya with 117 people on board, while 53 people were reported missing in a boat lost between Morocco and Spain. An Italian naval helicopter picked up three people suffering severe hypothermia from the first shipwreck.
The drownings come as the number of migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe is reported to have risen. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says that 4,216 people made the crossing in the first 16 days of 2019 – more than double the number who arrived in the same period in 2018.
In a separate incident, the charity Sea-Watch said it had rescued 47 people at sea, including eight unaccompanied minors, from a rubber boat in distress off Libya.
Following Italy’s tougher stand on accepting rescued migrants, Germany has now withdrawn from the European Union’s naval force Operation Sophia, set up to tackle people smuggling across the Mediterranean. The European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) criticised the move, calling on EU member states to “set aside the disputes and decide on how to cope with the refugees rescued in the Mediterranean”.
In 2018, about 2,297 migrants and refugees died or went missing in the Mediterranean while 116,959 reached Europe by sea.