Coastguard retrieves empty migrant boat, suspects tragic end

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The empty inflatable dinghy found drifting eight miles off the coast of Tripoli this morning (Photo: Tom Westcott, Libya Herald)
The empty inflatable dinghy found drifting eight miles off the coast of Tripoli this morning (Photo: Tom Westcott, Libya Herald)
May 14, 2013 (Libya Herald) — An empty boat used by sub-Saharan migrants hoping to reach European shores retrieved by the Libyan Coastguard this morning suggests that more lives have been lost at sea.

The 15-foot Zodiac inflatable dinghy, empty apart from personal possessions and identification documents, was found drifting some eight miles off the coast of Tripoli.

“A boat this size would often carry 80-90 people,” a Libyan Coastguard official told the Libya Herald today. “We suspect that those on board may have died because we have found mobile phones, passports and money.”

Tragically, among the provisions, there was a large, opened tin of baby formula milk. Personal items, such as a bottle of perfume, make-up, family photographs and a quantity of clothing were also found in the dinghy.

Other items abandoned on board included three mobile phones, passports and identity cards. The identity documents belonged to sub-Saharan Africans. One, the coastguard said, appeared to be that of a Sudanese policeman.

Amongst the water-damaged possessions were a number of photographs, one of which showed people who had previously been apprehended by the Coastguard.

“We recognise three people in this picture,” the Coastguard official said, “we caught them before and handed them over to the police.” Another staff member sorting out the items said that these people were desperate.

Items found on board the drifting boat are a moving testament to the plight of migrants hoping to find a better life in Europe (Photo: Tom Westcott, Libya Herald)
Items found on board the drifting boat are a moving testament to the plight of migrants hoping to find a better life in Europe (Photo: Tom Westcott, Libya Herald)
The Coastguard official said the vessel could have been used to deliver the migrants onto another boat. However, he added that this was unlikely because passports, mobile phones and money were the first things people would take with them, if they boarded another boat.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR has said that the number of people leaving Libya by sea is on the increase. “Since the start of March, 24 boats have departed from Libya carrying about 2,500 people, including 1,790 in April,” UNHCR said, adding that: “Those on board were mainly from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan.”

Of these 24 recorded boats, four were turned back by the Libyan Coastguard, nineteen reached Italy and one made it to Malta.

Last Thursday two boats carrying 84 illegal migrants were apprehended by the Libyan Navy and taken to the port of Khoms.

“Nearly every week we bring in a boat,” the Coastguard official said, “and now the weather is warmer, sometimes we find two a week.”

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