500 Refugees Dead in Shipwreck Near Libya: Reports

April 20, 2016 Updated: April 20, 2016

The United Nations refugee agency says that as many as 500 migrants may have died after a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea, it has been reported.

The ship sunk off the coast of Libya, after smugglers attempted to transfer migrants from a boat to an already overburdened larger vessel, the UNHCR said on Wednesday.

Due to the overcrowding, the large boat sank.

UNHCR spokeswoman Carlotta Sami said in a statement to AFP that survivors from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt said they saw “a large shipwreck that took place in the Mediterranean Sea claiming the lives of approximately 500 people”.

“Due to the overcrowding, the large boat sank,” UNHCR said in a statement obtained by the Guardian.

“Families in Egypt are weeping for their children who drowned in the sea,” a Somali community leader in Egypt said. “I keep seeing pictures of the people who drowned on social media. Some of them were my students.”

The 41 survivors included people who had not yet been transferred from the smaller vessel. Several others swam back to the smaller boat.

“In the middle of sea, the smugglers brought in more passengers, transferring them with a smaller boat. Due to the overcrowding, the large boat sank,” Sami said.

After the shipwreck, the survivors were left to drift in the smaller vessel before they were taken to Greece.

The date of the sinking is not clear. It’s also unclear who rescued the migrants, AFP reported.