Tunisia searches for deadly Mediterranean shipwreck survivors

Monday June 4 2018

People wait to receive the bodies of loved ones

People wait to receive the bodies of loved ones in the Tunisian town of Sfax on June 4, 2018 after more than 50 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean the previous day, the majority off the coasts of Tunisia and Turkey. PHOTO | AFP 

By AFP
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Tunisia's navy scoured choppy waters Monday for survivors and victims of the Mediterranean's worst shipwreck in months, with the UN migration agency warning more than 100 people may have been killed.

A total of 68 survivors were rescued Sunday off the coast of Sfax in southern Tunisia, while 48 bodies were recovered according to Tunisia's defence ministry.

A survivor told AFP that more than 180 people were crammed onto the boat — double its capacity — when it started taking on water and sank.

"The search operation restarted at 4:00GMT with the help of nine navy units, one helicopter and divers," Mohammed Salah Sagaama, commander of Sfax's naval base, told AFP.

"Up until 10:00GMT, no more bodies have been recovered," he added, saying the search efforts were hampered by strong winds and limited visibility.

The victims

So far 10 Tunisians have been identified among the victims and 14 people from other African nations.

Tunisia, like other North African nations, is a gateway for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

In March, 120 mainly Tunisian migrants were rescued by the navy trying to reach Italy.

A spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration on Monday said the death toll from the latest disaster could more than double.

"According to updated info, the shipwreck off the Tunisian coasts may have caused over 110 deaths: 48 bodies recovered, maybe about 64 missing," Flavio di Giacomo wrote on Twitter.

Seven children

The figure confirmed by Tunisian authorities already makes the shipwreck the deadliest in the Mediterranean since February 2, when 90 people drowned off the coast of Libya, according to the IOM.

The Sfax incident came as nine Syrians including seven children drowned on Sunday when their vessel sank off the coast of Turkey as they were trying to reach Europe.

Spanish maritime rescue meanwhile said one person was reported drowned, while 240 migrants were rescued over the weekend.

More than 650 people have been recorded as dead or missing in the Mediterranean so far this year, while at least 33,270 have survived the crossing to Europe.