15 migrants drowned and 100 others rescued off Libyan coast

File photo of a previous rescue mission. The rescue efforts, which took place after nightfall and as the dinghy began to sink, saw 113 people pulled to safety, including 89 men, 11 women, 11 children and two teenagers. Image by: GIORGOS MOUTAFIS / REUTERS
File photo of a previous rescue mission. The rescue efforts, which took place after nightfall and as the dinghy began to sink, saw 113 people pulled to safety, including 89 men, 11 women, 11 children and two teenagers.
Image by: GIORGOS MOUTAFIS / REUTERS

Some 15 migrants were feared drowned Thursday after a high-seas rescue off the coast of Libya in which several ships pulled 100 people to safety from a sinking dinghy.

The dinghy left Libya at 1200 GMT Wednesday but quickly ran into trouble, hit by 2.5 metre-high waves and a fierce 50 kilometres an hour wind, said AFP photographer Aris Messinis, who is aboard the Astral, a vessel chartered by Spanish humanitarian NGO, Proactiva Open Arms.

Though the dinghy was spotted at 1700 GMT by a reconnaissance drone belonging to a ship run by the Maltese NGO MOAS, those aboard could not be saved for another two hours because they were still in Libyan waters, off limits to rescue vessels.

“We said to the Libyan coast guard that we were entering no matter what because the boat was sinking, and they finally accepted,” Messinis said. Questioned by AFP, a MOAS spokesman could not confirm the operation took place in Libyan waters.

The rescue efforts, which took place after nightfall and as the dinghy began to sink, saw 113 people pulled to safety, including 89 men, 11 women, 11 children and two teenagers.

But survivors told MOAS that there had been some 130 people on board originally.

The missing included a three-year old boy, whose mother was in shock after describing how the toddler fell into the sea.

One of the surviving teenagers said he had lost five friends to the waves, while one family said their 16-year-old had died.

Many of those rescued were suffering from fuel burns, including a woman in a severe state who could not be evacuated immediately due to the bad weather, the MOAS spokesman said.

Mixed with salt water, the fuel has devastating effects on the skin, particularly for women who, unlike men, often do not want to remove their contaminated clothing for modesty or religious reasons.

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