25 travelling on inflatable dinghy found dead in Mediterannean
TRIPOLI - The French aid group Doctors without Borders (MSF) said Wednesday that 25 migrants had been found dead aboard an inflatable dinghy in the southern Mediterranean.
MSF said its chartered rescue ship, the Bourbon Argos, picked up 107 people aboard the boat 26 nautical miles off Libya on Tuesday.
Its crew initially counted 11 corpses on the dinghy's floor, which was flooded with a mixture of fuel and seawater.
The Bourbon Argos was then called away to another rescue operation nearby, saving 139 people aboard another vessel.
The crew returned to the first vessel and found on closer examination that in fact 25 people had died, probably from suffocation, burns or drowning.
The bodies were retrieved from the toxic mixture over a period of hours, with the help of a team from the German NGO Sea-Watch.
"The mixture of water and fuel was so foul that we could not stay on the boat for long periods. It was horrible," MSF project leader Michele Telaro said in a statement.
At least 3,800 migrants and refugees have perished this year while trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe, the highest ever toll ever on the perilous route, the UN said Wednesday.
"We can confirm that at least 3,800 people have been reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean Sea so far this year, making the death toll in 2016 the highest ever recorded," UN refugee agency spokesman William Spindler told AFP in an email, as the figures passed last year's mark of 3,771.
The sombre milestone was reached despite a significant decline in migrant crossing this year compared to 2015.
Last year, more than a million people reached Europe via the Mediterranean, but crossings so far this year remain below 330,000.
Numbers began dropping dramatically following a March deal between Turkey and the European Union to stem the migrant tide on the Greek islands.
The most dangerous route has been between Libya and Italy, where the United Nations has recorded one death for every 47 arrivals this year.
For the much shorter Turkey to Greece route, the likelihood of perishing was one in 88, UNHCR said.
The agency explained that death rates have spiked despite nearly a two-thirds drop in total migration because smugglers are "often using lower quality vessels -- flimsy inflatable rafts that do not last the journey."
Smugglers also appear to be packing increasing numbers of people on boats, possibly to drive up profits, UNHCR further said.
Shipwrecks involving more people have reduced rescue rates, the agency added, also noting that several disasters this year have been linked to bad weather.