A pregnant woman died and at least 22 people other migrants are missing after their small rubber boat sank in the Mediterranean Sea, officials said.
Seventy-one survivors were rescued Monday as they struggled to survive in the water off coasts of Italy and Malta, according to Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian group.
“What we faced yesterday was our worst nightmare,” Riccardo Gatti, the group’s search and rescue team leader, said in a statement. “When we got closer to the boat in distress and we could see it with our binoculars, we understood how complicated this rescue would be. The boat was sinking with dozens of people trapped, while many were already in the water.”
Rescue teams tried to revive the pregnant woman, but were unsuccessful. Three other migrants, including a four-month-old baby, required emergency care. The infant and her mother were later evacuated to Malta, Doctors Without Borders said.
Two women told rescuers they had also lost their children at sea, while another woman said her younger brother met the same fate. Survivors also said up to 12 other people may be missing, according to the group.
“The survivors are exhausted,” said Stephanie Hofstetter, the medical team leader on the Geo Barents search and rescue vessel. “Many have ingested large amounts of seawater and multiple people suffered hypothermia after spending many hours in the water.”
At least 10 migrants had moderate to severe fuel burns and require additional treatment, Doctors Without Borders said.
The group said the incident is a “deadly consequence of the growing inaction” and disengagement of European nations, including Italy and Malta, regarding migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.
“Tragedies at sea continue to cost thousands of lives, and these people are being lost on Europe’s doorstep in absolute silence and indifference on the part of [European Union] states,” Doctors Without Borders search and rescuer Juan Matias Gil said in a statement.
Some 721 missing migrants have been tallied in the Mediterranean Sea this year alone, according to Doctors Without Borders, which said it remains the “deadliest border” worldwide. A total of 24,184 missing migrants have been recorded there since 2014.
One man from Cameroon said he was at sea for 19 hours before being saved.
“All these hours, I saw many people drowning,” he said. “I am happy that I was saved but it comes with a lot of tears.”
Photos posted on Twitter show dozens of migrants struggling to survive while “severely traumatized and shocked,” according to Doctors Without Borders.
The Geo Barents vessel was headed to Italy following the dramatic rescue and Doctors Without Borders is working with Maltese and Italian authorities to find a “place of safety” for the migrants, the group said Tuesday.