African migrant boat capsized off coast of Italian island, four survivors rescued with 41 others presumed dead

August 10, 2023
Ben Marquis

Southern European nations continue to receive a steady stream of illegal migrants who most often arrive on boats that have crossed the Mediterranean Sea from countries in North Africa.

One such boat that set sail from Tunisia carrying an estimated 45 migrants capsized and sank last week off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, with just four survivors and all others missing and presumed dead in the shipwreck, Fox News reported.

The four survivors -- two men, one woman, and a 13-year-old boy, who all claimed to have come from the West African nations of Guinea and Ivory Coast -- were spotted floating on inner tubes about a day later by a passing merchant ship that picked them up and turned them over to the Italian Coast Guard.

41 dead, four survivors

ABC News reported that according to the Red Cross, which interviewed the four migrant survivors, the boat left the Tunisian port of Sfax last Thursday but sank just hours after setting sail when it ran into stormy weather and rough waters, killing an estimated 41 people, including three children.

The four survivors initially clung to life preservers fashioned out of inner tubes before eventually coming upon a small abandoned motorless boat that they then used to stay afloat until the merchant ship came by and rescued them.

After they were turned over to the Italian Coast Guard, the migrants were taken to their original destination of Lampedusa, a small island owned by Italy deep in the central Mediterranean that, according to Fox News, features a newly revamped migrant welcome center facility operated by the Italian Red Cross.

Central Mediterranean migrant crossing route among most dangerous in the world

A joint statement was issued Thursday by the International Organization for Migration and a pair of United Nations organizations focused on children and refugees, UNICEF and UNHCR, that expressed their "deepest condolences for the loss of dozens of lives following another deadly shipwreck" in the Mediterranean Sea.

Per the survivors, the migrant group had left Sfax, Tunisia in an old iron barge that quickly capsized, and the statement asserted, "Dangerous weather conditions make crossings in iron barges particularly perilous for navigation, highlighting smugglers’ total disregard for the lives of migrants and refugees making these journeys. Only a few days ago, a pregnant mother and a child lost their lives off Lampedusa."

According to the IOM, at least 1,800 migrants so far this year have been confirmed as dead or missing along this particular route -- Sfax to Lampedusa -- across the Central Mediterranean, with the Central Mediterranean itself being characterized as one of the most dangerous migration routes around the globe that also accounts for around 75 percent of all deaths in the entire Mediterranean over the past decade.

Yet, rather than work to discourage or prevent African migrants from embarking on that particularly dangerous cross-sea journey, the organizations instead called up European nations to devote more resources to search and rescue efforts and to change their policies to be more accommodating of migrants seeking asylum and refuge.

Two more migrant shipwrecks on same route over weekend

Meanwhile, NBC News reported that there appeared to be at least two more shipwrecks over the weekend along that route from Tunisia to Lampedusa, with a combined 30 migrants missing and presumed dead.

The Italian Coast Guard said it had rescued 57 survivors and recovered two bodies, while Tunisian authorities claimed to have recovered 11 bodies but also stated that 44 people were still missing -- some of whom may have been among the survivors picked up by Italy.

NBC noted that Italy's Interior Ministry said the country has received more than 93,700 migrants by sea so far this year, which is more than twice as many as the 44,700 migrant arrivals by sea during the same time frame last year.

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