10 May 2019

Tunisia: UNHCR - 65 Reported Drowned After Shipwreck Off Coast of Tunisia

press release

Some 65 people have drowned after their boat sank approximately 45 nautical miles off the coast of Tunisia early this morning, in one of the worst incidents on the Mediterranean in months.

16 people were pulled from the water and have been brought to the coast of Zarzis by the Tunisian Navy. One person has been immediately transferred to hospital for medical treatment, while the others await permission to disembark.

According to the survivors, the group left Zuwara, around 120km west of Tripoli, yesterday evening. Their boat ran in to trouble soon afterwards when encountering strong waves.

"This is a tragic and terrible reminder of the risks still faced by those who attempt to cross the Mediterranean," said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Mediterranean."

UNHCR staff are ready to assist the survivors with emergency shelter, food and blankets, and to conduct an assessment of their protection needs. UNHCR's partner, Tunisian Red Crescent, is standing-by to provide medical assistance.

This latest incident is the highest loss of life since some 117 died or went missing in mid-January. For some months, UNHCR has been raising the alarm at the lack of search and rescue capacity on the central Mediterranean.

164 people died on the route between Libya and Europe in the first four months of 2019, considerably less than in previous years, however, the journey is becoming increasingly fatal for those who risk it. In the first four months of this year, one person has died on the central Mediterranean for every three that have reached European shores after departing from Libya.

"Across the region, we need to strengthen the capacity of search and rescue operations," said Cochetel. "If we don't act now, we're almost certain to see more tragic events in the coming weeks and months."

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