Drowned woman and child found clinging to wrecked migrant ship

Left to die: Drowned woman and child are found along with survivor still clinging to wrecked migrant ship ‘after Libyan coastguards abandoned them’

  • Libyan coastguard intercepted a boat and took 158 Europe-bound migrants back to shore on Tuesday
  • They have been accused of deliberately sinking the ship despite two women and a child remaining on board
  • Migrant aid group, Proactiva Open Arms, found the drowned bodies of the woman and toddler 
  • The woman was  found curled dead on a table, the skin of her arms burned by leaked diesel fuel
  • Rescuers also found one distraught survivor, named Josephine, clinging to the remains of the shattered boat in the Mediterranean 

The bodies of a drowned woman and a toddler have been found – along with a sole survivor – still clinging to a wrecked migrant ship after Libyan coastguards ‘left them to die’, as the number of boats trying to reach Spain triples.

Distressing photos of the two corpses, slumped on the remains of the boat, have been published on Twitter by Proactiva Open Arms, a non-governmental organisation based in Barcelona.

‘The Libyan Coast Guard said it had intercepted a boat with 158 people, [and had provided] medical and humanitarian assistance,’ wrote Oscar Camps, founder of the organisation, whose main mission is to rescue refugees who are fleeing from war, persecution or poverty. 

Devastating scene: The bodies of a woman and a child were found still clinging to a sunken migrant boat. A rescuer from the Proactiva Open Arms ship is pictured reaching the surviving woman as she struggles in the water

Distraught: A crew member of the NGO Proactiva Open Arms rescue boat embraces a woman after she was pulled to safety from the sunken boat in the Mediterranean on Tuesday 

Frantic: A member of the Spanish Proactiva Open Arms swims across to rescue the sole survivor, who is seen in blue, clinging on to remnants of the sinking boat as another woman lies dead on a piece of the vessel

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    The coastguards had sent out a message to the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination, saying they had ‘rescued’ 158 Europe-bound migrants – in other words, taken them back to the shores of the North African nation.

    However, the coastal authorities in Libya failed to say that two woman and a child had been left behind on board, and that the migrant ship was allegedly deliberately sunk after the trio refused to board the patrol boats.

    Camps, founder of Proactiva, said: ‘When we arrived, we found one of the women still alive. We could not do anything to [save] the other woman and the child, who apparently died a few hours before we found them.’

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    The migrant aid group has accused Libya’s coast guard of abandoning the three people in the Mediterranean Sea.

    The group explained that it had found one woman alive on Tuesday and another one dead, along with the body of a toddler, amid the drifting remains of a destroyed migrant boat.

    The wrecked migrant boat was found 80 nautical miles from the Libyan coast.

    The organisation posted images and videos of the wreckage and the dead bodies on social media, accusing both a merchant ship sailing in international waters and Libya’s coast guard of failing to help the three migrants.

    Hope: Spanish rescuer, Javier Filgueira, 25, said that as he swam towards the woman, he was ‘hoping with all my heart that she was still alive’. She was found on her stomach, attached to a table.

    Heartbreaking: The emotional toll of the mission is etched on the rescue workers’ faces as they retrieve the body of the dead woman and take her corpse back to their boat

    In a blog, journalist Annalisa Camilli, writing at sea about the rescue of Europe-bound migrants, said the surviving woman’s name is Josephine, and she is originally from Cameroon.

    ‘She was found on her stomach, attached to a table,’ Camilli added.

    Her Spanish rescuer, Javier Filgueira, 25, said that as he swam towards her, he was ‘hoping with all my heart that she was still alive’.

    The dead toddler is believed to have died of hypothermia, and was found alongside ‘a woman, presumably her mother. She was also found curled dead on a table, the skin of her arms burned by diesel fuel leaked from the canisters,’ the journalist explained.

    Giovanna Scaccabarozzi, the doctor on board Proactiva, said the woman had probably been dead for several hours prior to being discovered in the sea, while the toddler had died ‘recently’.

    Libyan Coast Guard spokesman Ayoub Gassim had earlier said that a boat carrying 158 passengers including 34 women and nine children had been stopped Monday off the coast of the western town of Khoms.

    He said the migrants were given humanitarian and medical aid and were taken to a refugee camp.

    Libya has emerged as a major transit point to Europe for those fleeing poverty and civil war in Africa and the Middle East.

    Traffickers have exploited Libya’s chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

    Saved: Members of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms remove the sole survivor from the open sea, about 85 miles off the Libyan coast. Rescuers said her name is Josephine, and she is originally from Cameroon

    The rescued woman rests inside the Proactiva Open Arms boat in the Mediterranean

    A crew member embraces the shaken migrant 

    Italy’s new populist government has vowed to halt the influx of migrants across the Mediterranean and has given aid to Libyan authorities to step up efforts to stem the flow.

    Human rights activists have sharply criticised that assistance, saying migrants being returned to Libya are at risk of facing beatings, abuse, rape and slavery.

    Oscar Camps today blamed the Italian government’s cooperation with Libyan authorities for the death of the woman and the toddler that his group had found.

    ‘This is the direct consequence of contracting armed militias to make the rest of Europe believe that Libya is a state, a government and a safe country,’ Camps said in a video posted on Twitter.

    He said the two women and the toddler had refused to board the Libyan vessels with the rest of the intercepted migrants, and the three were abandoned in the sea after the Libyan coast guard destroyed the migrants’ boat.

    Camps also said their deaths were the result of not allowing aid groups like Proactiva to work in the Mediterranean.

    Both Italy and Malta have blocked aid groups from operating rescue boats, either by refusing them entry to their ports or by impounding their vessels and putting their crews under investigation. 

    This has added fuel to an ongoing war of words between Proactiva and Italy’s Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini.

    NGO Proactiva Open Arms rescue boat crew member Esther Camps looks through binoculars during a rescue operation in the Mediterranean

    The NGO’s deputy, Erasmo Palazzotto blasted the latter on Twitter, posting a photo of the dead woman and toddler with the admonishment: ‘Matteo Salvini, this is what the Libyan coast guard does when he makes a humanitarian rescue: Open Arms saved the only survivor, while your Libyan friends killed a woman and a child… at least today have the decency and respect to keep quiet [about migrants] and open the ports.’

    Salvini said today on Twitter: ‘Two Spanish NGO ships are back in the Mediterranean waiting for their load of human beings. Save time and money, Italian ports will [send them a] postcard.’

    The UN migration agency, meanwhile, said the number of migrants and refugees who have arrived in Spain by sea this year has overtaken those who have reached Italy.

    The International Organisation for Migration said on Tuesday that Spain saw 18,016 migrants up to July 15, while 17,827 people landed in Italy during the same period.

    Aid groups have reported a rise in the number of crossings to Spain and Greece compared to the previous year, while arrivals in Italy are down almost 80 per cent from 2017.

    The overall number of migrants and refugees entering Europe by sea this year totals 50,872, less than half the 109,746 who came in by mid-July last year.

    In 2016 during the same period, 241,859 migrants came to Europe.

    IOM also said 1,443 people are dead or missing in the dangerous Mediterranean Sea route up to July 15 this year.

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