Libya has given up efforts to find the bodies of more than 200 illegal migrants presumed to have drowned when their overcrowded boat sank Sunday in bad weather off the Libyan coast. Most were hoping to land in Europe, where they were seeking a new life.
Libya has not released any official figures regarding the precise number of casualties, but the daily al Jamahiriya reports only 21 people aboard the ship were saved.
The paper also reports the Libyan coast guard saved the lives of 350 other illegal immigrants whose ship ran into bad weather.
A top Libyan official with the country's General Security directorate told the paper the Libyan government is doing its utmost to combat illegal immigration to Europe, which was the probable destination of both vessels.
The head of the International Organization for Migration in Tripoli, Laurence Hart, describes the tragedy. "These missing people came from a boat of 257, which set off Sunday morning at 5:00 AM from a beach near to Tripoli. This boat went on for about three hours and then it had a small leak, which caused panic among the passengers, who actually moved abruptly within the boat. Weather conditions were not terribly good, and caused a lot of flooding of the boat, which actually sank, leaving only the back part afloat," he said.
Hart notes that only a few of the passengers, all of whom were from the African continent, were able to cling to the wreckage of the vessel. They are now in a refugee center outside Tripoli. "Only 20 of the 257 passengers managed to grab that part of the boat, the back part of the boat, and to stay there for eight hours, awaiting the rescue of the Libyan vessel ... We have visited the migrants, who are in a reception center near Tripoli. They all seem to be in decent condition. They have some kidney problems, due to the drinking of salty water," he said.
Hart says his organization sent a team of doctors to treat the survivors, and Libyan officials say that they are doing their best to help the illegal migrants recover.