Dozens of migrants have died after being attacked by sharks during a crossing from Africa to Italy, according to the Libyan navy.
At least 31 people have died and another 40 people are missing as a result of the attack after migrants attempted to take advantage of the weather and attempt the crossing.
An alarm was raised to the crossing early on Friday where two Libyan coastguard boats were sent to the scene. They found ‘horrific’ scenes when they got there with many victims reportedly being bitten by sharks.
Around 200 people were rescued after the crossing went awry, which has resulted in the deaths – 18 of whom are women and children, The Times reports.
Libyan patrol boat commander Nasser al-Ghammoudi told Italian newspaper Il Giorno:
When we arrived in the area, off the town of Garabulli, [one] dinghy was semi-submerged and still had 44 people clinging on to it, whom we saved.
There were lots of bodies all around and we saw there were four or five sharks swimming among them, large blue sharks, a very aggressive species.
When we brought the bodies on board we noticed that some of them had been bitten, so it’s possible that among the missing some may have been eaten.
There were two more rescue operations conducted off the coast of the city, 40 miles east of Tripoli, according to reports.
Searches were carried out in the water for five hours but only one more person was found.
Almost 2,000 people have been rescued in the Mediterranean over the course of last week, with the International Organisation for Migration saying 161,000 people had crossed the sea to Europe, and 3,000 have died trying to do so.
There had been a drop in numbers of migrants coming to Europe via the Med in recent months. The UN recently concluded that the previous three months had seen 21,666 migrants arrive in Italian ports.
This is the lowest total registered in four years for that period of the year.
There has been an upsurge, however, in traffickers trying to get past the Libyan coastguard by spreading departures from the country’s borders along the coast.
They have also been using smaller boats, which makes them ‘more difficult to intercept’, and are simultaneously more dangerous for those trying to cross the border.
On Friday there was a rescue of another 400 people off the Libyan coast. An Eritrean woman died in childbirth in Libya after being left without medical care for three days. Her body was thrown into the bottom of a dinghy as it left for sea.
Survivors of the journey told volunteers:
The traffickers told us: ‘Throw her into the sea and go and die yourselves in the Mediterranean’.
We didn’t do it. She was our sister. We hope they will give her a decent burial.
Despite claims from the Libyan navy, Italian experts are more sceptical of a shark attack because there are no known attacks by packs of sharks.
Sergio Scandura, a radio journalist, said it is possible they ‘wanted to cover up deaths provoked by their own violent interventions’.