Skip to main content

U.N.: At least 150 drown when boat from Libya capsizes

By the CNN Wire Staff
Hundreds of migrants have fled Libya by boat since the start of the country's civil war.
Hundreds of migrants have fled Libya by boat since the start of the country's civil war.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.N. refugee agency: 578 people survive the sinking
  • Thousands of refugees fleeing the conflict in Libya try to get to Europe
  • An overcrowded boat with about 850 people aboard left Tripoli for Italy last weekend
  • The boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday
RELATED TOPICS
  • Libya
  • Tunisia

(CNN) -- At least 150 people drowned when a boat leaving Libya capsized off the Tunisian coast this week, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday.

Scores more were still missing as a rescue operation by Tunisian authorities continued. But at least 578 people survived the sinking Wednesday, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

On Thursday, 195 survivors were transferred to a humanitarian aid camp close to the Tunisia-Libya border, according to a statement from the refugee agency.

An additional 383 survivors were expected to be taken to the same or nearby camps for help.

The overcrowded boat, which set sail May 28 from Tripoli, was headed for the Italian island of Lampedusa carrying about 850 people. The passengers were mostly migrants from West Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh who were fleeing fighting in Libya, the refugee agency said in a statement.

The agency said some survivors reported the boat was manned by people with little or no maritime experience.

Soon after the boat left Tripoli, it ran into difficulties and by Tuesday, the passengers ran out of food and water.

The boat ran aground Wednesday near the Kerkennah Islands, about 300 kilometers (about 186 miles) northwest of Tripoli in the Mediterranean Sea, the refugee agency reported.

"Desperate passengers rushed to one side, seeking rescue by the Tunisian coast guard and fishing boats that had approached the vessel," and the boat capsized, the agency said.

"This appears to be one of the worst and the deadliest incidents in the Mediterranean so far this year," said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the refugee agency.

Lampedusa, the closest Italian island to Africa, has become a destination for tens of thousands of refugees seeking to enter Europe.

More than 30,000 migrants and refugees from Tunisia and Libya have risked the dangerous journey to Lampedusa.

At one point, the population of migrants vastly outnumbered the tiny population of Lampedusa, which numbers less than 6,000.

"Boats loaded with migrants fleeing the ongoing conflict in Libya have been making the journey to Italy and Malta over recent months, sometimes with tragic consequences," the refugee agency said in its statement. "Just last month, hundreds died as a vessel carrying about 600 people broke up shortly after departing Tripoli."

Part of complete coverage on
'Sons of Mubarak' in plea for respect
Pro-Mubarak supporters believe Egypt's former president is innocent of charges of corruption and killing protesters.
Timeline of the conflict in Libya
Fighting in Libya started with anti-government demonstrations in February and escalated into a nationwide civil war.
Who are these rebels?
After months of seeming stalemate, Libyan rebels declared they were moving in on Tripoli. But who are they?
Why NATO's Libya mission has shifted
Six months and more than 17,000 air sorties after it began, NATO's Operation Unified Protector in the skies over Libya grinds on.
Interactive map: Arab unrest
Click on countries in CNN's interactive map to see the roots of their unrest and where things stand today.
Send your videos, stories
Are you in the Middle East or North Africa? Send iReport your images. Don't do anything that could put you at risk.
Libya through Gadhafi's keyhole
Behind the official smiles for the cameras some people in Libya's capital are waiting for the rebels, reports CNN's Ivan Watson.
How Arab youth found its voice
Tunisia's Mohamed Bouazizi not only ignited a series of revolts but heralded the first appearance of Arab youth on the stage of modern history.
 
Quick Job Search