Tunisia searches for survivors of deadly shipwreck

Relatives of Tunisian migrants, who drowned when their boat sank, gather outside a hospital morgue to identify the bodies of their kin in Sfax. (Reuters)

Tunisia’s navy scoured choppy waters Monday for survivors and victims of the Mediterranean’s worst shipwreck in months, with the UN migration agency warning more than 100 people may have been killed.

A total of 68 survivors were rescued Sunday off the coast of Sfax in southern Tunisia, while 48 bodies were recovered according to Tunisia’s defence ministry.

A survivor told AFP that more than 180 people were crammed onto the boat -- double its capacity -- when it started taking on water and sank.

“The search operation restarted at 4:00 GMT with the help of nine navy units, one helicopter and divers,” Mohammed Salah Sagaama, commander of Sfax’s naval base, told AFP.

“Up until 10:00 GMT, no more bodies have been recovered,” he added, saying the search efforts were hampered by strong winds and limited visibility.

So far 10 Tunisians have been identified among the victims and 14 people from other African nations.

Tunisia, like other North African nations, is a gateway for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

In March, 120 mainly Tunisian migrants were rescued by the navy trying to reach Italy.

A spokesman for the International Organization for Migration on Monday said the death toll from the latest disaster could more than double.

“According to updated info, the shipwreck off the Tunisian coasts may have caused over 110 deaths: 48 bodies recovered, maybe about 64 missing,” Flavio di Giacomo wrote on Twitter.

An image grab taken from an AFPTV video shows the entrance to the Habib Bourguiba University Hospital in Sfax, eastern Tunisia, to where victims of a migrant shipwreck were transported on June 3. (AFP)

An image grab taken from an AFPTV video shows the entrance to the Habib Bourguiba University Hospital in Sfax, eastern Tunisia, to where victims of a migrant shipwreck were transported on June 3. (AFP)

The figure confirmed by Tunisian authorities already makes the shipwreck the deadliest in the Mediterranean since February 2, when 90 people drowned off the coast of Libya, according to the IOM.
The Sfax incident came as nine Syrians including seven children drowned on Sunday when their vessel sank off the coast of Turkey as they were trying to reach Europe.

Spanish maritime rescue meanwhile said one person was reported drowned, while 240 migrants were rescued over the weekend.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:51 - GMT 06:51
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