Mediterranean Sea deaths hit new record

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Risking their lives to reach Europe from North Africa, a boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. Photo: UNHCR/A. D'Amato

Two mass drownings in the Mediterranean Sea in which an estimated 100 people died on Thursday have pushed this year's death toll to more than 5,000; a grim new record.

Announcing the latest deaths on Friday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR) said that both incidents involved totally unsuitable and overcrowded rubber dinghies.

Matthew Wells has the story.

The agencies reported that the Italian coastguard had rescued some 143 passengers out of an estimated 260 on board the stricken vessels.

Their exact departure point, most likely from the North African coast, is not yet known.

The IOM explained that it was "not unusual" for far too many people to be crammed into inflatable crafts.

Joel Millman is the agency's spokesperson.

"We're talking about over 100 people in each boat, and these are normally supposed to carry 25 to 30 people. So we can imagine only that it's rough seas, it's winter weather and when it capsizes, they don't have many hours to survive in that weather."

 Despite the cold and danger, nearly 360,000 people have made the perilous crossing so far this year, according to the two agencies.

 That compares with more than one million journeys in 2015, when the death toll was less than 4,000.

 Reasons for this year's increase in fatalities appear to be related to the poor quality of vessels used by people smugglers, as well as their tactic of sending out several boats simultaneously, making rescuers' work more difficult.

 Matthew Wells, United Nations.

 Duration: 1'05"

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