A shipwreck off the Libyan coast has reportedly claimed the lives of 130 people, despite SOS calls for help.

First published in April 2021.

The tragedy was confirmed late on Thursday by the volunteer rescue vessel Ocean Viking, which found dozens of bodies floating in the water northeast of Tripoli.

“This boat had been reported in distress with around 130 people onboard on Wednesday morning,” the NGO SOS Méditerranée said in a statement.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesperson, Safa Msehli, told journalists in Geneva that the victims had been on board a rubber dinghy for two days before it sank in the central Mediterranean.

“For two days, the NGO alarm phone, which is responsible for sending distress calls to the relevant maritime rescue centres in the region, has been calling on States to uphold their responsibilities towards these people and send rescue vessels. Unfortunately, that has not happened.”

More than 500 people have drowned on the so-called Central Mediterranean sea route this year according to the IOMalmost three times as many the same period last year.

Ocean Viking witnessed the aftermath of the deadly shipwreck off Libya.

Others in peril

Over the past few days, there have been reports of at least two other boats carrying migrants in the central Mediterranean, Ms. Msehli noted.

One boat was intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and 103 or more people were returned to Libya “and detained”, while a mother and child were found dead on board.

The third boat, which is believed to be carrying 40 people, has been at sea for three days and is still missing, the IOM spokesperson continued.

“What we fear is that the worst has happened, given the status and the state of these boats, given the length and duration that people are spending in what remains the most dangerous sea crossing in the world.”

According to IOM data, more than 16,700 people have crossed the Mediterranean route since the start of the year and some 750 have died, taking into account Thursday’s shipwreck.

Urgent action required, IOM and UNHCR urge

In a joint message released late on Friday, the IOM and UN refugee agency, UNHCR, called for “urgent action” in the Central Mediterranean to avert further major loss of life.

The agencies “reiterate their call on the international community to take urgent steps to end avoidable loss of lives at sea,” said the IOM and UNHCR. “This includes the reactivation of search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, enhanced coordination with all rescue actors, ending returns to unsafe ports, and establishing a safe and predictable disembarkation mechanism.”

SOS Méditerranée concluded: States abandon their responsibility to coordinate Search and Rescue operations, leaving private actors and civil society to fill the deadly void they leave behind. We can see the result of this deliberate inaction in the sea around our ship.” 

Going Further:

PMP News reporting.


[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 25 April 2021. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: SOS Méditerranée/Flavio Gasper. - At least 130 Europe-bound migrants are feared dead after this inflatable boat capsized off the Libyan Mediterranean coast. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

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