Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said that the MS Aquarius, which it charters along with French NGO SOS Mediterranee, had picked up over 200 migrants, including 50 children, who had been trying to reach Europe via the shores of Italy.
The Italian coastguard said the MY Phoenix, chartered by Malta-based foundation MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) had picked up another 354 people. But after the migrants clambered to safety on the MSF rescue ship, they discovered a pile of bodies at the bottom of one of the dinghies.
“It is not clear how people died. When team approached the dinghy, dead bodies were at the bottom of the boat in a pool of fuel and water,” said Jens Pagotto, MSF’ Head of Mission fir Search and Rescue Operations. It is still not entirely clear what happened, but they died a horrible death.
It seems that water and fuel mixed together and the fumes from this might have been enough for them to lose consciousness. The survivors, who are mostly believed to be from Nigeria and Guinea, are now being brought to the Sicilian port of Trapani, where they are expected to arrive tomorrow.
Mr Pagotto said the two dinghies had probably left Libya in the early hours of Wednesday and were picked up 17 nautical miles east of Tripoli.
The Italian coastguard received a distress call at about 10am local time yesterday and notified the MSF ship MV Aquarius, which took three hours to reach the scene.
“The survivors had been on the boat with the bodies of these women for hours on end. Many are too traumatised from what they have endured to be able to talk about what had happened.”
He said a team of trauma specialists would be on hand to help the survivors when they reached land.