Aug. 19 (UPI) — At least 45 people died this week when the boat they were using to cross the Mediterranean Sea exploded off the coast of Libya, the United Nations said Wednesday.
Local fishermen rescued some 37 survivors after the Monday shipwreck and brought them to shore, where they were detained. The survivors said the engine on the boat exploded.
Among the dead were five children.
The group of migrants were largely from Chad, Ghana, Mali and Senegal, the U.N. Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said. The agencies called for a greater search and rescue capacity in instances such as Monday’s shipwreck.
“There remains a continued absence of any dedicated, [European Union]-led search and rescue program,” the agencies said. “We fear that without an urgent increase in search and rescue capacity, is a risk of another disaster similar to incidents that saw large loss of life on the Central Mediterranean prior to the launch of Mare Nostrum.”
Mare Nostrum was a yearlong effort launched by the Italian government in 2013 to search for and rescue migrants on the Mediterranean Sea.
The agencies said Libyan vessels have largely taken on the responsibility of carrying out rescues, resulting in more than 7,000 people being returned to Libya in 2020. The United Nations said any rescues done by Libyan vessels should be done on the condition that none of the migrants is arbitrarily detained or abused.
The IOM said at least 302 migrants have died while crossing from North Africa to Europe across the Mediterranean. Some 17,000 people have migrated to Italy or Malta this year from Libya and Tunisia, about three times the number from 2019.