Sea tragedy "shows need for rescue boats"

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An overloaded boat of refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe as seen from the deck of the Italian Coastguard ship, the San Giorgio, during a Mediterranean patrol in 2014. Photo UNHCR/Alfredo D'Amato

The death of nearly 150 people whose vessel sunk en route across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this week highlights the need for more effective search and rescue operations, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said on Thursday.

The sole survivor of the tragedy, a 16-year-old boy from The Gambia, said that the boat starting taking on water only hours after leaving the Libyan coastline.

Warmer spring weather in Europe has been linked to an increase in the number of people attempting the treacherous crossing and UNCHR says that saving lives at sea must remain "the key priority".

Daniel Johnson has more.

More than 23,000 people have made the dangerous sea crossing from North Africa to Italy so far this year.

Several hundred people have died trying, including nearly 150 in a single incident three days ago, when their boat went down only hours after leaving the port of Sabratha in Libya.

Pregnant women and children were reportedly on board according to the sole survivor, a 16-year-old boy.

He survived by clinging to a fuel tank and was rescued by a Spanish ship.

The UN Refugee Agency's Cécile Pouilly said that the incident reflects the increasing dangers associated with the sea crossing.

"We see worrying trends including lower quality of vessels that are used by traffickers, the fact that many of the departures happen at night in bad sea conditions, and the fact that on the vessels themselves sometimes there is no satellite phone which means people are stranded and cannot call for rescue."

The UNHCR appeal for more robust search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean follows a pledge by the international community at the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in September last year.

Duration: 1’10″

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