A pregnant woman died and at least 22 other migrants are missing after their small inflatable boat sank in the Mediterranean Sea, officials said.
According to Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian group, 71 survivors were rescued Monday as they struggled to survive in the waters off the coasts of Italy and Malta.
“What we experienced yesterday was our worst nightmare,” Riccardo Gatti, the head of the group’s search and rescue team, said in a statement. “As we got closer to the distressed boat and could see it through our binoculars, we realized how complicated this rescue would be. The boat sank with dozens of people trapped while many were already in the water.”
Rescuers tried to revive the pregnant woman but were unsuccessful. Three other migrants, including a 4-month-old baby, needed emergency care. The child and his mother were later evacuated to Malta, MSF said.
Two women told rescuers they also lost their children at sea, while another woman said her younger brother suffered the same fate. Survivors also said up to 12 other people could be missing, according to the group.
“The survivors are exhausted,” said Stephanie Hofstetter, head of the medical team on the search and rescue ship Geo Barents. “Many have drunk large amounts of seawater and several people have suffered from hypothermia after spending long hours in the water.”
At least 10 migrants had moderate to severe fuel burns and need additional treatment, MSF said.
The group said the incident was a “deadly consequence of growing inaction” and retreat from European nations, including Italy and Malta, on migrants in the Mediterranean.
“Tragedies at sea continue to claim thousands of lives and these people are lost in the absolute silence and indifference of the world on Europe’s doorstep [European Union] States,” MSF search and rescuer Juan Matias Gil said in a statement.
Some 721 missing migrants were counted in the Mediterranean this year alone, according to Doctors Without Borders, who said it was the “deadliest border” in the world. A total of 24,184 missing migrants have been registered there since 2014.
A Cameroonian man said he was at sea 19 hours before he was rescued.
“In all those hours I’ve seen a lot of people drown,” he said. “I’m glad I was saved, but it brings a lot of tears.”
photos posted on Twitter show dozens of migrants who, according to Doctors Without Borders, are “severely traumatized and shocked” struggling to survive.
The Geo Barents ship sailed to Italy after the dramatic rescue, and MSF is working with Maltese and Italian authorities to find a “safe place” for the migrants, the group said on Tuesday.