International Organization for Migration says before the Cyprus wreck, at least 1,443 people died or went missing this year in the Mediterranean Sea route from northern Africa as of July 15.

Rescue workers from the Proactiva Open Arms Spanish NGO retrieve the bodies of an adult and a child amid the drifting remains of a destroyed refugee boat off the Libyan coast. A migrant rescue aid group accused Libya's coast guard of abandoning three people in the Mediterranean Sea, including an adult woman and a toddler who died, after intercepting some 160 Europe-bound migrants on July 16 near the shores of the northern African country. July 17, 2018.
Rescue workers from the Proactiva Open Arms Spanish NGO retrieve the bodies of an adult and a child amid the drifting remains of a destroyed refugee boat off the Libyan coast. A migrant rescue aid group accused Libya's coast guard of abandoning three people in the Mediterranean Sea, including an adult woman and a toddler who died, after intercepting some 160 Europe-bound migrants on July 16 near the shores of the northern African country. July 17, 2018. (Proactiva Open Arms via AP / AP)

At least 19 people died when a boat carrying about 150 migrants sank off the coast of northern Cyprus, and rescuers were searching for 25 other people, Turkey's coast guard said on Wednesday.

It said 103 migrants were rescued by boats and helicopters of the Turkish and northern Cypriot coast guards, helped by commercial boats in the area, from the sunken boat some 30 kilometres (18 miles) off the north Cyprus coast.

One rescued person was in critical condition and has been brought to northern Cyprus by helicopter, the coast guard said.

TRT World's Sara Firth brings the latest from Turkey's southern city of Mersin, where many of the survivors have been taken.

Burhanettin Kocamaz, mayor of the southern Turkish province of Mersin, said the rescued refugees and the bodies of those killed in the sunken boat were being brought to Mersin.

Kocamaz said there was no information about the origins of the refugees and migrants yet, adding authorities did not yet know where the boat had come from.

Television footage of the passengers' arrival showed several ambulances arriving at Mersin's Tasucu harbor, from where they were taken to the Silifke district for treatment.

The coast guard said a Panama-flagged commercial ship spotted the migrant boat some 25 nautical miles from Turkey's southern province of Antalya and alerted the coast guard on Wednesday morning.

In 2015, Turkey became one of the main launch points for more than a million migrants taking the dangerous sea route to the European Union, many fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

A 2016 deal between Turkey and the European Union sharply reduced the flow of refugees into the bloc, after thousands died crossing fromTurkey to Greek islands a few miles offshore.

From January to May this year at least 26 migrants died trying to cross to Europe from Turkey, according to coast guard statistics.

Mediterranean arrivals to the bloc, including refugees making the longer and more perilous crossing from north Africa to Italy, stood at 172,301 in 2017, down from 362,753 in 2016 and 1,015,078 in 2015, according to data from the United Nations. 

The International Organization for Migration said before the Cyprus wreck that 1,443 people died or went missing this year in the Mediterranean Sea route from northern Africa as of July 15.

Libya accused of abandoning refugees at sea

Friction between the Italian government and private aid groups that patrol the sea to look for people in danger ratcheted up on Wednesday when a Spanish aid organization shunned an Italian port for one in Spain. 

Proactiva Open Arms said it found a survivor and two dead bodies from a boat wreck on Tuesday, and accused Italy of complicity.

The Open Arms vessel was expected to arrive on Saturday in the port of Palma de Mallorca, said a Spanish government spokeswoman who was not authorised to be named in media reports.

The aid organisation accused Libya’s coast guard, which has received training from Italy and funding from the European Union, of abandoning the three people Monday when it took 158 other migrants from the boat and destroyed it.

But the aid group also aimed sharp criticism at Italian authorities, who initially granted the Open Arms permission to dock in the Sicilian port of Catania, according to Proactiva.

In a statement on Wednesday, the aid group said it did not trust how the Italian government would handle the investigation of Monday wreckage after Interior Minister Matteo Salvini referred to the group’s account as “lies and insults.”

The strongman in the new Italian populist government, Salvini has vowed to halt the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean, giving aid to Libyan authorities and vowing to close the country’s ports to aid groups it accuses of helping human traffickers by picking up migrants and bringing them to Europe.

Proactiva reported that a woman and a young boy were dead by the time private rescuers found them Tuesday morning in waters some 80 miles off the Libyan coast. Rescuers also found a woman clinging to a piece of wood amid the remnants of a 10-metre-long inflatable boat.

Libya’s coast guard denied on Tuesday having left anyone at sea and blamed any deaths at sea on human traffickers and the “presence of such irresponsible, non-governmental groups in the region.”

In addition to accusing Libyan coast guards, Proactiva’s director Oscar Camps said Italy was to blame for “enlisting assassins” to “kill and torture” those who try to cross the Mediterranean.

“The policies of Matteo Salvini are responsible for this crime,” Camps said in a statement.

Salvini responded to the criticism in a tweet that rhetorically asked why the Open Arms vessel was shunning the Italian safe port offer.

“Could it be that they have something to hide?” he asked.

Humanitarian groups say the pressure being exerted on them by hostile governments is increasing the number of deaths at sea, despite a sharp drop in refugee and migrant arrivals in the European Union since 2015.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies