An estimated 300 people are feared dead after attempting to reach Italy from Libya in three inflatable rafts, the UN refugee agency said after speaking to survivors rescued by Italy’s coastguard in the past few days.
An Italian tug boat rescued nine people who had been on two different boats on Monday and brought them to the Italian island of Lampedusa on Wednesday morning.
They are the only known survivors from their two boats, leaving more than 200 unaccounted for, they told the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials, according to a tweet by Carlotta Sami, the UNHCR spokesperson for Southern Europe.
Three boats, each carrying about 100 people, are missing, according to interviews with survivors from two of the boats, Barbara Molinario, another UNCHR official, told the Reuters news agency.
The three boats had left Libya together with an additional one from which the coastguard picked up 105 people on Sunday in extreme sea conditions and with the temperature hovering just a few degrees above zero, witnesses said.
Twenty-nine from that boat reportedly died of hypothermia in the 18 hours it took the coastguard to ferry them to Italy.
Several thousand people have died trying to make the perilous crossing from North Africa to Europe across the Mediterranean in the last year alone.
Italy’s made a decision last year to end a full-scale search-and-rescue mission, known as Mare Nostrum, due to concerns over costs. Al Jazeera