Boat with 91 migrants onboard goes missing in Mediterranean

Published: Feb. 20, 2020 at 9:27 PM EST
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By: Associated Press

February 20, 2020

A rubber dinghy packed with 91 migrants that set out from Libyan shores in hopes of reaching Europe has apparently gone missing in the Mediterranean, the U.N. refugee agency said Thursday. The inflatable boat carrying mostly African migrants departed from al-Qarbouli, 30 miles east of the capital Tripoli on February 8, said Osman Haroun, whose cousin was on board. He hasn't heard from the 27-year-old Mohamed Idris, or his 10 other friends also on the boat, since.

"It's the first time I've heard of this happening," Haroun told The Associated Press by phone from the western coastal district of Zawiya, where he has lived with his family since fleeing the conflict-ridden Darfur region of Sudan in 2016.

"Those who set out you usually hear from within a few hours ... no one has even seen the boat's remains."

News of the missing boat comes amid criticism of the European Union's lack of rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea. Member countries agreed earlier this week to end an anti-migrant smuggler operation involving only surveillance aircraft and instead deploy military ships to concentrate on upholding a widely flouted U.N. arms embargo that's considered key to winding down Libya's relentless war.

Alarm Phone, a crisis hotline for migrants in need of rescue at sea, drew attention Thursday to what it called "an invisible shipwreck," urging Libyan, Maltese and Italian authorities to share information about the day's rescue missions.

It said a black rubber boat with 91 people on board, apparently hailing from Sudan, Niger, Iran and Mali, called the hotline in distress at 3:30 a.m. February 9. The passengers managed to share their GPS coordinates minutes later, which put them in international waters north of Libya.