Dozens of migrants missing off Tunisia after boat sinks

Rescue teams searched for dozens of people missing on Wednesday after a boat carrying migrants from Libya to Europe capsized off the coast of Tunisia.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said 30 people had been rescued and 75 people were missing after the boat sank off the city of Sfax in southern Tunisia. A body was found, authorities said.

Mourad Turki, spokesman for the courts in Sfax, told The Associated Press that those rescued were between the ages of 18 and 40 and of various nationalities, including Bangladeshi, Egyptian, Moroccan and Cameroonian.

The presumed number of missing was tentative and could increase, Turki said. The search continued on Wednesday, according to IOM spokeswoman Esma Rihane.

The boat reportedly left Zuwara in northern Libya on Sunday evening. According to the National Guard of Sfax, the ship ran aground 10 kilometers from the island of Kerkennah, off the Tunisian coast, without it being known exactly when.

Zuwara serves as a departure point for migrants trying to reach southern Europe by sea. Last July, a boat carrying 127 migrants from Zuwara sank off Zarzis, a port in southern Tunisia, leaving 43 people missing.

In a separate mission from the Tunisian Navy’s ongoing search, the non-governmental organization Open Arms carried out a rescue operation in an area off the Tunisian coast on Tuesday evening.

Dramatic photos and videos from the Spanish maritime rescue group showed dozens of people in the water and clinging to the side of an overturned boat.

Head of mission Gérard Canals said the organization had been alerted to a possible ship in distress on Tuesday evening and located the boat after four hours of navigation.

“It was overcrowded”

“A wooden boat with more than 100 people was left adrift very close to Tunisian territorial waters… It was overcrowded,” Canals said. “During the rescue operation, the wooden boat capsized but we managed to get these 110 people on board different life rafts which we deployed overnight.”

The Open Arms salvage vessel is seeking a safe port to disembark, he said.

“We need the authorities to act immediately,” Canals said. “The weather will deteriorate very soon and we (don’t have enough) space, food or water to supply those on board.”

The central Mediterranean, which connects Libya and other North African countries to Italy and Malta, is the most dangerous migration route in the world, according to the IOM.

The UN agency estimates that more than 1,500 people died or went missing in this part of the sea in 2021 and more than 500 have perished so far this year.