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More than 240 migrants drown in the Mediterranean

Nov 4, 2016, 10:51 AM

More than 240 migrants have drowned in two shipwrecks in the Mediterranean, it has emerged.

Both of the overcrowded rubber dinghies overturned in heavy seas about 25 miles off the coast of Libya killing most of those on board, survivors said.

It comes as dramatic pictures emerged of two rescue missions off Libya today, with close to 180 people pulled to safety.

Desperate refugees could be seen leaping into the water as rescue ships arrived - and then frantically trying to clamber back on board.

The deaths today bring to 4,220 the number of migrants who have died or gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean on their way to Europe this year. 

Carlotta Sami, a UNHCR spokeswoman in Italy, said 31 survivors of two shipwrecks who arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa reported that the rubber dinghies they were travelling in had oevrturned amid bad weather shortly after leaving Libya.

Sami said 29 people survived the first wreck, reporting that about 120 other people on their boat had gone missing.

And in a separate operation, two women found swimming at sea told rescuers that another 120 people had died in their wreck.

In both cases, most people on board appeared to have been sub-Saharan Africans, but Sami said aid workers were still ascertaining details about the shipwrecks.

Leonard Doyle, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration,

said 12 bodies were recovered in one of the shipwrecks, located 25 miles off the Libyan coast.

The Norwegian vessel Siem Pilot was first on the scene, some 20 nautical miles off Libya, and rescued the survivors - all of whom were in poor condition after spending hours in the water - and recovered 12 bodies.

 ‘They told us they were on a faulty dinghy which began to sank as soon as they set sail. They were the only survivors,’ Sami said.

UNHCR said the increased number of deaths this year is partly due to the fact that smugglers are often using rubber dinghies, which are prone to deflating and often see people fall overboard.

In addition, more migrants are arriving with severe burns from being exposed to fuel mixed with sea water in the bottom of the dinghies. Smugglers are using rubber dinghies because they are cheaper and easier to obtain.

According to the IOM, 3,777 people were dead or missing in the Mediterranean last year.