The U.N. Refugee Agency and Italian authorities say they fear at least 700 migrants have died in three separate shipwrecks in the Mediterranean since last Wednesday.This comes amid a surge of migrants attempting to make the dangerous crossing between Libya and Italy, UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler tells The Two-Way. He adds that search and rescue teams have been able to save 14,000 people making the crossing during the past week.The first incident happened last Wednesday, he says, on a fishing boat carrying hundreds of migrants: “When people saw a rescue ship approaching they all rushed to one side, and that caused the boat to lift and flip over.”
He says many people fell into the sea — “but inside the ship, in the hold, there were hundreds of people – and about a hundred are still missing, presumed to have drowned.”The Italian Coast Guard captured this harrowing sequence of images of the boat flipping over, as it worked to rescue the migrants
Spindler says that as many as 550 people are feared dead from a separate shipwreck on Thursday. “It was being pulled by a fishing boat and it started to take on water and to sink. And the boat that was pulling it cut the rope that was being used to pull it so that it would not also go down,” Spindler says.
As The Associated Press notes, it’s impossible to verify exact death tolls “because the bodies went missing in the open sea.” The wire service adds that “humanitarian organizations and investigating authorities typically rely on survivors’ accounts to piece together what happened, relying on overlapping accounts to establish a level of veracity.”
The tragedies this week bring the death toll in the Mediterranean to more than 2,000 people, Spindler says.Last year saw some 3,700 reported casualties. “We are not there yet, but we are also not in the peak of the sailing season,” Spindler says. That’s in July and August, he says, when the weather is at its calmest.