Weekend Death Toll Most Lethal for Mediterranean Migrants

Italian Coast Guard scours the area off of the coast of Libya searching for survivors. Image-Italian Coast Guard
Italian Coast Guard scours the area off of the coast of Libya searching for survivors. Image-Italian Coast Guard

Although only a handful of bodies have been retrieved from the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, as many as 700 are believed to have perished in the weekend sinking of a migrant ship carrying nationals from Egypt, Syria, Sudan and Eritrea.

The vessel is believed to have capsized because of migrants aboard the vessel rushing to one side of the vessel as another vessel approached them. That vessel, the King Jacob, had been ordered to the scene by Italian officials after being notified that a migrant ship was in the area. When the King Jacob approached, migrants attempting to attract attention, rushed to the side of the boat, causing it to roll over into the sea. Many of those below decks, locked into the hold by their smugglers, had no hope of escape as the vessel met its end.

17 vessels combed the waters of the sinking, searching for survivors, but with the exception of 28 survivors, searchers found only bodies and wreckage.

This weekend sinking is believed to have resulted in the largest death toll of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea escaping poverty, repression and conflict. The sinking spurred the European Commission to meet in Luxembourg to address the immigrant crisis.

Even as they met, more incidences occurred in the Mediterranean. One, a sailing vessel, crashed into the rocks off of the Greek Island of Rhodes. Although approximately 80 people were rescued, three, a man, woman and child perished in the grounding.

Two more vessels were reported in distress off of the Libyan coast, one an inflatable raft carrying 100-150 people, another vessel carrying 300.

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1,100 people are thought to have perished in the Mediterranean Sea this month alone. With warming weather conditions, that number may rise steeply as the year progresses. The death toll of migrants crossing the sea to Europe has risen since the conclusion of Italy’s “Operation Mare Nostrum.” That surveillance and rescue operation was ended because it was felt to be a bridge to migrants wanting entry into Europe.