Over 700 migrants rescued off Libya, says Italy Coast Guard

Over 700 migrants rescued off Libya, says Italy Coast Guard

Over 700 migrants rescued off Libya, says Italy Coast Guard About 730 migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast on Feb. 22 after seven rescue operations mounted by the Italian Coast Guard and the SOS Mediterranee aid group.

The migrants were mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, said the coast guard, which is coordinating rescue operations in the central Mediterranean.

SOS Mediterranee, which operates in the region, said its ship Aquarius had recovered 394 people, including a group of 75 Bangladeshis, AFP reported. 

Six years after the fall of Moamer Gadhafi, Libya is still in chaos and the country has become a major launching pad for migrants seeking to enter Europe.

In the absence of an army or a regular police force in Libya, several militias act as coast guards but are often accused themselves of complicity or even involvement in the people-smuggling business.

The number of attempted crossings to Italy has surged this year, with most departures taking place from the west of Libya, from where Italy is just 300 kilometers (190 miles) away.

Europeans are considering measures aimed at blocking the arrival of thousands of migrants, alarming NGOs which fear that those stranded in Libya may suffer mistreatment.

Meanwhile, a survivor of this week’s deadly migrant boat disaster says over 100 migrants drowned off the Libyan coast when their boat lost its engine shortly after starting their perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

The 31-year-old Gambian migrant told The Red Crescent’s branch in the Libyan city of Zawiya, where 74 bodies washed ashore on Feb. 20, that the boat was packed with 133 people, only 24 of whom survived, The Associated Press reported. 

He said that the migrants sailed on Feb. 19 from a spot west of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, and because of stormy weather and darkness, panicking migrants rushed to one side of the boat near the engine, causing it to dip below the water and stall.