A migrant boat overturned off Libya’s coast Thursday with an unknown number of passengers on board. At least 88 were rescued by the Italian coast guard, officials said.
The Libyan coast guard also reported finding four bodies as well as also two empty boats, suggesting there could be many more victims in the Mediterranean as smugglers working in the lawlessness of Libya took advantage of calm seas and warm weather to pack would-be refugees into unseaworthy boats for the trip to Europe.
The Italian operation was one of two dozen rescues underway. Italian Coast Guard. Cmdr. Cosimo Nicastro said the capsized boat was first spotted Thursday by an aircraft participating in the European Union’s Mediterranean monitoring operation. The Italian coast guard responded with two rescue vessels to the location some 30 miles (50 kilometers) off Libya’s coast.
Nicastro said 88 people had been rescued from the wooden boat. He said he didn’t have any information about whether any bodies were recovered or how big the boat was.
The EU mission tweeted a photo of a rescue operation but it wasn’t immediately clear if it was the same one. The photo showed a sunken blue dinghy with passengers floating nearby who were being rescued by the Spanish frigate Reina Sofía. It said the boat had 100 migrants aboard.
In other rescues, a Libyan navy spokesman said a total of 766 migrants were rescued by the Libyan coast guard on Thursday.
Col. Ayoub Gassim said they were found in two groups: one of 550 near the western coast city of Sabratha and the second of 216 off Zwara.
He also said that two boats were found empty in the area between the two cities, and only four bodies were retrieved while the rest of its migrants are feared dead. He said he had no details about the empty boats.
The operations came a day after the Italian navy released dramatic images of another rescue of passengers of a huge smuggling ship that overturned off Libya, with migrants clinging to the ship’s sides and being thrown into the sea. In that operation, the navy initially said seven bodies had been recovered but then lowered the number to five.