At least 70 migrants feared drowned off Malta

August 28th, 2008 - 5:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Valletta (Malta), Aug 28 (DPA) Two rescue helicopters Thursday were searching for as many as 70 illegal migrants reported missing off Malta.They were reported missing by eight of their companions who were found floating on a half-submerged dinghy some 40 miles south of the Mediterranean island.

Initially there was some confusion about the number of missing migrants, with the survivors telling a fishermen who rescued them that they were in a group of 18. The number was revised late Wednesday after a top official from the UN Commission for Refugees interviewed the survivors.

One of the two German helicopters conducting the search late Wednesday spotted three bodies floating in the water 56 miles south of Malta. The helicopters are participating in the EU border agency’s patrols.

“This is a major tragedy,” Neil Falzon, head of the UNHCR office in Malta said, pointing out that the survivors were severely traumatised.

The survivors told him that the group of 78 migrants, including four women, three of them pregnant, left from the Libyan coast on a dinghy Aug 21. Their dinghy started taking in water early Monday before capsizing.

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