At least 22 dead on migrant boat off Libya

ABOARD THE ASTRAL, Italy, Oct 5 (APP/AFP): At least 22 Europe-bound migrants were found dead Tuesday in an overloaded wooden boat off Libya, an AFP photographer witnessed, on a day of frantic rescues in the Mediterranean.

Photographer Aris Messinis, who was able to go on board the vessel, said many of the dead had suffocated.

“It was a wooden vessel and there were about 1,000 people on three levels. I counted 22 bodies and there are still others in the hold,” he said by telephone.

Messinis was travelling on the Astral, a ship chartered by Spanish NGO ProActiva Open Arms, which rescues migrants at sea.

Towards 2000 GMT the Astral rescuers moved back to allow the Italian navy to take care of the survivors and retrieve the bodies, the photographer said.

The deaths came after the Italian coastguard — which is coordinating rescue efforts in international waters north of Libya — said at least 1,800 migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast on Tuesday.

It was yet another day of drama at sea after more than 6,000 migrants, most of them Africans in packed rubber dinghies, were rescued off Libya on Monday. Nine bodies were found in those operations, including a pregnant woman.