Rescued migrants land in Italy as death toll exceeds 700

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Two Eritrean survivors Two Eritrean survivors of an accident that might have produced the largest number of missing and presumed dead, when a wooden fishing boat being towed by another smugglers’ boat from the Libyan port of Sabratha, sank Thursday. (AP Photo/Pasquale Claudio Montana Lampo)

The Italian coast guard ship “Dattilo” docked at the Sicilian port of Pozzallo on Monday with 322 rescued migrants and refugees on board.

Current accounts have pushed to more than 700 the number of migrants feared dead in Mediterranean Sea shipwrecks over three days in the past week, even as European ships saved thousands of others in daring rescue operations.

Since May 23rd, more than 80 rescue operations have taken place. More than 13,000 people have been rescued with the coordination of the Italian coast guard operation center in Rome.

Survivors were aboard a wooden fishing boat being towed by another smugglers’ boat from the Libyan port of Sabratha that sank on Thursday. Some described on Sunday how the situation on the boat got out of control and they struggled to save their lives.

One survivor from Eritrea told The Associated Press that water started seeping into the second boat after three hours of navigation, and that the migrants tried vainly to get the water out of the sinking boat.

“We tried to save all the people. That was not possible. All the children, some were already dead, some jumped in the water. Some swam. The situation was out of control,” said one survivor who chose not to be named.

He jumped into the water and swam to the other boat before the tow line on the navigable boat was cut to prevent it from sinking when the other went down.

Migrants being rescued at sea by the Italian navy.

Migrants being rescued at sea. (Italian Navy via AP)

According to Alessio Morelli, the ship’s captain Italian Coast Guard’s “Dattilo,” the rescue operation took place in waters north of the city of Sabratha (city in Libya), from where the rescued vessel departed. There are 322 people, the majority come from the Horn of Africa, and also a couple of Syrian families.

“A couple of people are still under the observation of our onboard medical team, while everybody else is in a fair condition,” Morelli said. “Clearly, after two days at sea with us they are a little bit worn out, but overall they are in a good condition.”

Italian Red Cross personnel were also on the scene Monday to examine the surviving refugees.

The shipwrecks appear to account for the largest loss of life reported in the Mediterranean since April 2015, when a single ship sank with an estimated 800 people trapped inside.

Humanitarian organizations say that many migrant boats sink without a trace, with the dead never found, and their fates only recounted by family members who report their failure to arrive in Europe.

The shipwrecks of last week appear to account for the largest loss of life reported in the Mediterranean since April 2015, when a single ship sank with an estimated 800 people trapped inside.

Story compiled with sources from The Associated Press