A Gambian man rescued from a refugee vessel sunken in the Mediterranean has told the United Nations officials that around 150 were on board when the ship capsized off Libya.
The UN refugee agency said Wednesday that some 146 refugees, among them children and several pregnant women, were feared missing after the capsizing, which purportedly occurred earlier this week.
The agency said the Gambian man was interviewed in a hospital in the Italian island of Lampedusa after he was spotted almost by accident by a Spanish military ship sailing in the Mediterranean as part of a European Union operation to crack down on smugglers. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the Spanish ship had found the man while he was desperately holding on a fuel can to survive.
The Gambian told a member of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that the refugee vessel, which left on Sunday or Monday from Sabratha, western Libya, began taking on water a few hours after setting off. He said passengers included refugees from Nigeria, Mali and The Gambia.
A deal between the EU and Turkey in March last year forced many to dare the risky journey through the Central Mediterranean from Libya to Italy. Smugglers have also benefited from the chaos and lawlessness in Libya to dispatch more people on board unsafe dinghies.
More than 23,000 refugees have managed to make it to the Italian shores since the beginning of 2017, Italian authorities say. The IOM says 590 refugees have died or gone missing along the Libyan coast, without considering the figure from the recent disaster.