Described by the United Nations refugee agency as “the deadliest shipwreck in the Mediterranean so far this year”, up to 150 migrants and refugees are feared drowned attempting to make the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea into Europe after their boat capsized off Libya. The vessel, which was possibly three boats lashed together, is reported to have started to fill with water 90 minutes after setting out before the engine failed and the passengers began to drown. Libyan fishers in small boats took part in rescuing 134 survivors, who were returned to Libya by the coastguard.
With the withdrawal of coordinated search-and-rescue operations previously provided through the European Union, rescue operations in such incidents, including the recovery of bodies, now depend on the Libyan coastguard and local fishers and volunteers.
Although the number of people crossing the Mediterranean and arriving in Europe decreased by 17 percent in the first three months of 2019 compared with the same period of 2018, there are concerns that a greater proportion are drowning and being lost at sea as the people traffickers are cramming more people into unseaworthy boats to make the crossing in unsafe conditions.