ZARZIS, TUNISIA (BNO NEWS) -- More than 50 migrants who were attempting to travel by boat from Libya to Italy are believed to have died of dehydration after they became stranded in the Mediterranean Sea, officials said on Tuesday. Only one person has survived the incident.
The group left the Libyan capital of Tripoli in late June and a day later reached the Italian coast, but strong winds forced the boat back to sea. The inflatable boat was punctured several days later, allowing air to leak out and leaving the 55 migrants stranded in the Mediterranean Sea.
Authorities were unaware of the boat until late Monday night when fishermen off the coast of southeastern Tunisia found a man who was floating on the remains of the boat and a jerry can. The fishermen alerted the Tunisian Coast Guard who rescued the man and rushed him to a hospital in Zarzis, where he is being treated for dehydration and exposure.
The survivor told the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Tuesday that there was no water supply on board the boat and people started to die of dehydration within days. Many of the migrants drank sea water during the 15-day ordeal, including the man who survived. More than half of the victims are believed to have come from Eritrea, including the survivor and three of his relatives.
"This is a tragedy. Fifty-four people have lost their lives," said T. Alexander Aleinikoff, Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees at UNHCR. "I call upon all vessels at sea to be on heightened alert for migrants and refugees needing rescue in the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean is one of the busiest seaways in the world and it is imperative that the time honored tradition of rescue at sea be upheld."
Authorities are currently also monitoring a boat carrying 50 Eritreans and Somalis in the Mediterranean Sea, but they refused to be rescued by Maltese military forces on Monday. The UN Refugee Agency estimates more than 1,300 people have arrived by boat from Libya in Italy so far this year. More than 1,000 people have arrived from Libya in Malta.
The United Nations believes around 170 people have died so far this year while attempting to make the dangerous journey from Libya to Europe. More than 1,500 people drowned or went missing while attempting to cross the sea from Africa to reach Europe last year, making the Mediterranean Sea the world's deadliest stretch of water for migrants and refugees.
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