Boat carrying 600 sinks off Tripoli, five boats rescued by Italian coastguard

Briefing Notes, 10 May 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 10 May 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Early last Friday, a boat carrying people fleeing Libya broke up shortly after departing Tripoli. Relatives of those onboard say the vessel was carrying around 600 people. A senior Somali diplomat in Tripoli has reported that sixteen bodies have been recovered, including two babies. But the full death toll is unknown to us. Most of those onboard are believed to have been from sub-Saharan Africa.

Europe has till now received less than two percent of those fleeing Libya. This past weekend saw an increase in arrivals across the Mediterranean: Five boats arrived on Lampedusa, carrying close to 2,400 people. Most are sub-Saharan Africans, many of them women and children. All five boats needed rescuing by the Italian coastguard and maritime police, with one boat running aground close to the Lampedusa shore. Yesterday three bodies washed ashore, thought to have been passengers from the boat that ran aground.

The number of people who have arrived in Italy and Malta from Libya now stands at 12,360, in a total of some 35 boats (11,230 to Italy and 1,130 to Malta). Prior to Friday's disaster, family members and survivors told UNHCR of boats running into problems, and as many as 800 people are unaccounted for.

On 8 April UNHCR appealed to European states to urgently put in place more reliable and effective mechanisms for rescue at sea on the Mediterranean. We reiterate that call today. In addition, we appeal to ship masters for heightened vigilance and for continued adherence to the longstanding maritime obligation of aiding people in distress. People fleeing Libya are often doing so in un-seaworthy and overloaded vessels. UNHCR urges states, commercial shipping companies and others present in the Mediterranean to consider that all boats leaving Libya for Europe are likely to require assistance.

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