Sixty-four people have died after an overcrowded rubber dinghy launched from Libya sank in the Mediterranean, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has said.
The Italian coastguard rescued 86 people from the boat hours after it sustained a puncture and started sinking on Saturday morning. A girl survived after clinging to her mother, who drowned, witnesses said.
Rescue divers pulled dozens to safety, including those who managed to stay onboard the half-submerged dinghy, as well as others flailing in the sea around it. The bodies of eight women were recovered.
Flavio Di Giacomo of the IOM said survivors interviewed by the agency in Catania had said 150 people were onboard the dinghy when it set off from the Libyan coast.
“Sixty-four migrants lost their life in the shipwreck [which] occurred last Saturday,” Di Giacomo said, adding that “probably 56 missing migrants” were lost at sea.
The Italian coastguard searched through the night but did not find any more survivors or bodies.
Enzo Bianco, the mayor of Catania, told the Italian radio station Radicale that a child whose mother died was among the survivors.
“I watched a three-year-old girl while she was starting to play at the port here. She was saved, grabbed at the last second by the coastguard in the sea,” he said. “She was clinging to her mother and she saw her drown.”
Bianco said the girl was with her aunt, who was among the survivors.
The dinghy had been spotted by an aircraft from a European naval mission targeting people trafficking.
Hundreds of thousands of people were rescued at sea and taken to southern Italian ports in the past few years, including nearly 119,000 in 2017. More than 3,000 drowned in the Mediterranean last year, the IOM said.
They included refugees fleeing wars or persecution who hoped to be given asylum, and economic migrants mainly from sub-Saharan Africa.