Bodies of more than 70 migrants wash up on Libya's coast

The IFRC for the Middle East and North Africa posted photographs of the recovery to its Twitter account.

Story highlights

  • Migrants who died are believed to have been trying to cross from Libya to Italy
  • The Libyan Red Crescent reports one survivor was located near a torn dinghy

(CNN)The bodies of 74 migrants have been recovered by the Libyan Red Crescent after washing up on the country's northern coast near the city of Zawiya.

Rescuers say a sole survivor was found near a torn rubber dinghy. Volunteers, who responded to a call yesterday morning, say they believe the individuals drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
"There are still bodies in the sea but our team could not reach them because the sea is very troubling and they don't have boats so they can't reach them easily," Taha K. Sultan Elbarghathi, international relations officer for the Libyan Red Crescent, told CNN.
When asked about the survivor's condition, Elbarghathi described it as "not great." The middle-aged man, believed to be from Africa, was still breathing but unconscious when found, he said. He has been taken to a local hospital.
"The bodies have been floating deeper into the sea," Elbarghathi continued, adding that this was the biggest number of bodies retrieved by the Zawiya team in a single mission.
He said the 74 bodies collected are all African men, of varying ages; their boat is thought to have got into difficulties at the weekend.
Libyan Red Crescent volunteers collect the bodies of men who drowned and were washed ashore.
Elbarghathi said they are uncertain how many migrants were on the vessel but that there could have been around 150 individuals on board, given the type of dinghy recovered nearby.
He said: "We don't know the exact time the boat capsized but the boat did not totally sink ... One of the sides has lost its air."
Photographs posted to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Twitter account for the Middle East and North Africa show dozens of black body bags lining the shore as aid workers stand nearby.
Volunteers have spotted more bodies in the water but have so far been unable to reach them.
Volunteers are continuing to collect bodies as they wash ashore and prepare them for transfer to a local hospital.
Some working in the region don't believe the boat sank from navigating in difficult conditions. Instead they say smugglers operating along the sea routes are employing dangerous methods to get more refugees onto the water.
"What we hear from those rescued is that routinely smugglers are putting them to sea and then follow them later and take the engines away saying you don't need them anymore because you'll be rescued," said Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
"In this case they were left to drift and were not rescued," he said, adding "Those who died appeared to have been dehydrated for days."
"It's another one of the tragic incidents that have happened so far this year and certainly reminds us that the risk faced these days (is) one that often goes unnoticed by most of the world," Stephen Ryan, IFRC spokesperson told CNN.
Ryan said statistics from the IOM indicate the number of migrants crossing between Libya and Europe is on the rise.
"While the number of people taking the eastern Mediterranean and west Balkans route to travel into Europe (has) obviously significantly dropped since last year, there hasn't been a fall in the number of people ... traveling through the central Mediterranean routes from Libya to Italy," Ryan said.
"And in fact, although still early, the numbers of people that have successfully made the journey is higher than it was last year."
In the first weeks of 2017, 272 migrants and refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean, according to the IOM. Last year was the deadliest year on record for migrant deaths at sea, with 5,082 lives lost.