Nearly 700 migrants are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in the last few days as they tried to reach Europe in smuggling boats, according to the U.N. refugee agency. One of the victims is believed to have been a migrant woman who was decapitated after a rope tying two boats together was cut by a trafficker, creating a deadly whiplash effect.
A boat that sunk on Wednesday left 100 people dead and 45 bodies were recovered from a shipwreck on Friday. In addition, the UNHCR and Save the Children have been told that another vessel, carrying at least 500 people, sank without trace in the middle of the Mediterranean on Thursday, bringing the combined death toll to at least 645.
“We’ll never know the exact number, we’ll never know their identity, but survivors tell that over 500 human beings died,” Carlotta Sami, UNHRC spokeswoman, said on Twitter.
Survivors who were rescued at sea and brought to ports in Sicily told officials that Thursday’s disaster involved two boats – the first one, carrying around 500 migrants, was towing the second, which was also carrying about 500 people.
When the second vessel began to take on water and sink, the alleged captain of the first boat, a Sudanese man, cut the ow rope, causing it to whiplash and hit a migrant woman in the upper body, taking off her head.
The second boat then sank, taking down with it most of the migrants, who were packed tightly into the hold, as is usually the case with voyages organised by the pitiless trafficking gangs who operate along the Libyan coast.
The Sudanese man was arrested on his arrival in the port of Pozzallo along with three other suspected people traffickers, Italian media reports said.
“We tried everything to stop the water, to bail it out of the boat,” a Nigerian girl told cultural mediators, according to La Stampa daily. “We used our hands, plastic glasses. For two hours we fought against the water but it was useless. It began to flood the boat, and those below deck had no chance. Women, men, children, many children, were trapped, and drowned,” she said.
The dead included around 40 children, including babies, survivors said. Good weather and calm seas has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of boats making the crossing from Libya to Italy.