UN: Up to 245 missing after two shipwrecks

ROME (AP) — Two wrecks of migrant ships in the Mediterranean have claimed as many as 245 lives, including those of at least five children, according to survivor accounts given to U.N. agencies and authorities in Sicily, where dozens of rescued migrants were taken.

Survivors of one wreck, some of them hospitalized in Pozzallo, Sicily, where they were being treated for hypothermia and exhaustion, told authorities who interviewed them that their traffickers had crammed some 130 to 140 people, apparently all from central African countries, into a motorized rubber dinghy designed to hold at most 20 people.

The dinghy started deflating on one end, the passengers quickly shifted their positions in the boat, and the craft tipped over, authorities said, based on numerous survivors’ descriptions.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity since the shipwreck is being investigated.

The dinghy wasn’t equipped with any distress signaling equipment. The 50 or so survivors clung for hours to the wreckage of the dinghy until they were spotted by a patrol plane and rescued by a Danish cargo ship, which was dispatched to their aid by the Italian Coast Guard, which coordinates rescue operations.

One survivor is a Nigerian woman, whose 5-month-old baby died. The infant’s corpse was one of the few bodies so far recovered, authorities said.

Police in Sicily said in a statement that many of the survivors recounted that among the 80 or so who drowned was one of the smugglers who had been steering the boat.

Meanwhile, the U.N. refugee agency said in Geneva, where it is headquartered, said that one of its partner agencies, the International Medical Corps, reported a shipwreck on Sunday off the Libyan coast in which 163 people are missing and feared dead. The U.N. agency said one woman and six men were rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard.

Many of those who brave the risky central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy are migrants from Africa seeking to flee from conflicts, political persecution at home or to find better economic opportunities in Europe.

Overall, UNHCR said today that more than 1,300 people have disappeared and are believed to have died this year while crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy, while some 43,000 migrants and asylum-seekers reached Italy.

By Patricia Older

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