migrants mediterranean
Migrants are rescued by crew members of the rescue ship Ocean Viking run by NGO SOS Mediterranee during a search and rescue operation in the central Mediterranean Sea, March 13, 2024. Image Credit: Reuters

Rome: As many as 60 people are feared to have drowned on a vessel carrying migrants across the Central Mediterranean from Libya to Italy or Malta, the operators of a charity rescue group said on Thursday.

SOS Mediterranee said it rescued 25 people in a “very weak” condition in coordination with the Italian Coast Guard on Wednesday and that two unconscious people were flown to Sicily by helicopter.

The Central Mediterranean is one of the world’s most dangerous sea migration routes. According to the UN migration agency (IOM), almost 2,500 migrants using it died or went missing last year, and 226 since the start of 2024.

“The survivors departed from Zawiya, Libya, seven days before they were rescued,” SOS Mediterranee posted on the social media platform X.

“Their engine broke after three days, leaving their boat lost (and) adrift without water and food for days. Survivors report that at least 60 people perished on the way, including women and at least one child,” it added.

There was no immediate comment from the Italian Coastguard.

The IOM said it was “deeply troubled” by the report.

“Urgent action is needed to strengthen maritime patrols and prevent further tragedies,” it said on X.

In a post on X on Wednesday, the SOS Mediterranee said its Ocean Viking vessel had evacuated 25 people spotted using binoculars who were on a rubber boat drifting in the Libyan search and rescue area.

Italy and other European Union governments are trying to curb the number of sea migrants making the crossing from North Africa, and have offered money or equipment to Libya and Tunisia to stop departures from their shores.

Data from the Italian Interior Ministry record that 5,968 migrants have arrived by sea so far this year, down from 19,937 at the same stage in 2023.