Rescuers find 29 dead refugees in rubber boat off Libya coast

French aid group Doctors Without Borders and its chartered rescue ship the “Bourbon Argos” saves more than 200 people in the Mediterranean Sea.

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Rescued people board the Bourbon Argos ship during a rescue operation coordinated by MSF (Medecins Sans Frontiers) in the Mediterranean Sea, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016.

At least twenty-nine refugees were found dead in a boat off the coast of Libya, the French aid group Doctors without Borders (MSF) said on Wednesday.

The find adds to the grim evidence of the hazards of crossing the Mediterranean — a journey that the UN said Wednesday has claimed more than 3,800 lives so far this year, a record.

"We can confirm that at least 3,800 people have been reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean Sea so far this year, making the death toll in 2016 the highest ever recorded," spokesman William Spindler told AFP in an email, as the figures passed last year's mark of 3,771.

MSF said its chartered rescue ship, the Bourbon Argos, picked up 107 people aboard the inflatable boat 26 nautical miles off Libya on Tuesday.

Its crew initially said 25 corpses were found on the boat’s floor, which was flooded with a murky mixture of fuel and seawater.

The Bourbon Argos was then called away to another rescue operation nearby, saving 139 people aboard another vessel.

The crew returned to the dinghy and found on closer examination that 29 people had died, probably from suffocation, skin burns or drowning. 

Cultural mediator Firas Hebili walks between rescued people onboard the Bourbon Argos ship, during a rescue operation coordinated by MSF (Medecines Sans Frontiers) in the Mediterranean Sea, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP)

The bodies were retrieved from the toxic mixture over a period of hours, with the help of a team from the German NGO Sea-Watch.

"The mixture of water and fuel was so foul that we could not stay on the boat for long periods. It was horrible," MSF project leader Michele Telaro said in a statement.

This Oct. 21, 2016 picture provided by Sea-Watch aid group, shows the rescue of migrants off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea. (AP)

Twenty-three survivors suffered burns from exposure to fuel, 11 of whom were seriously hurt. Seven survivors were taken to hospital, two of them by helicopter.

The MSF team also provided psychological help to survivors, including a man who was left clutching his eight-month-old baby after his wife died.

"It's a tragedy, but sadly one cannot say that this was an exceptional day in the Mediterranean," said Stefano Argenziano, in charge of MSF's migrant assistance activities.

"Last week was terrible for our teams. They were engaged around the clock in rescue operations in which too many men, women and children lost their lives."

To venture out to sea in such conditions, said Argenziano bluntly, "is a headlong rush to the cemetery."

The asylum seekers, try to cross to Europe and seek for safe accommodations for them and their families as they flee war conditions and poverty.

Most of those who cross to Greece and Turkey are Syrians or Afghans. In Italy, however, the largest group comes from Nigeria, followed by Eritrea, Sudan and Gambia.

The most dangerous route has been between Libya and Italy, where the United Nations has recorded one death for every 47 arrivals this year.

TRTWorld and agencies