Tunis: Rescue teams searched Wednesday for dozens of people reported missing after a boat carrying migrants from Libya to Europe capsized off Tunisia’s coast.
The International Organisation for Migration said 30 people were rescued and 75 people were unaccounted for after the boat sank off the city of Sfax in southern Tunisia. One body has been recovered, authorities said.
Mourad Turki, a Sfax courts spokesperson, told The Associated Press that the people rescued were between the ages of 18 and 40 and of various nationalities, including Bangladeshi, Egyptian, Moroccan and Cameroonian.
The number believed to be missing was provisional and could increase, Turki said. The search continued Wednesday, according to International Organisation for Migration spokesperson Esma Rihane.
The boat reportedly departed from Zuwara in north Libya on Sunday night. According to the Sfax National Guard, the vessel ran aground 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the island of Kerkennah, off Tunisia’s coast.
Zuwara serves as a departure point for migrants attempting to reach southern Europe by sea. Last July, a boat carrying 127 migrants from Zuwara sank off Zarzis, a port in southern Tunisia, leaving 43 people missing.
The non-governmental organisation Open Arms conducted a Tuesday night rescue mission in the area of the Mediterranean Sea referred to by the UN migration agency.
Dramatic photos and videos from the Spanish maritime rescue group showed dozens of people in the water and clinging to the side of an upturned boat. It was not immediately clear if the group’s mission involved the same boat as the one reported by IOM.
Head of mission Gerard Canals said the organisation was alerted of a possible vessel in distress late Tuesday and located the boat after four hours of navigation.
“A wooden boat with over 100 people was left adrift very close to the Tunisian territorial waters…It was overcrowded” Canals said. “During the rescue operation, the wooden boat capsized but we managed to take these 110 people on board on different life rafts that we deployed during the night.”
The Open Arms rescue ship is looking for a safe port to disembark, he said.
“We need the authorities to act immediately,” Canals said. “The weather will deteriorate very soon and we (do not have enough) space, food or water to provide the people on board.”
The central Mediterranean, which connects Libya and other North African countries to Italy and Malta, is the world’s most dangerous migration route, according to the IOM.
The UN agency estimates that more than 1,500 people died or went missing in that part of the sea in 2021 and more than 500 have perished so far this year.