A woman and a boy adrift in the Mediterranean died just hours before help reached their damaged dinghy, Spanish rescuers said on Tuesday after finding a second woman alive in the vessel, which had been carrying migrants towards Europe.
A rescue boat operated by the Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms, with a Reuters photographer aboard, went to help the three migrants, stranded about 80 nautical miles off Libya’s coast, but found two already dead.
Proactiva Open Arms said the three were left helpless after being abandoned by Libyan coast guards. The Libyans had left the scene after the two women refused to board their patrol ship along with a boy of about four, it said.
Libya’s coast guard disputed the account, saying it had rescued 165 migrants from the damaged boat, and recovered the body of one baby. But it offered no explanation for how the three migrants came to be stranded on the remains of the dinghy.
“It is not in our religion, our ethics or our conduct to abandon human lives at sea, where we only came to save them,” it said in a statement. The migrants were sunburnt and dehydrated after spending more than 60 hours stranded at sea, it said.
Proactiva Open Arms operates in the deadly central Mediterranean route, where charity boats have been locked out of Italian ports since a vow by Italy’s new populist government to crack down on illegal immigration from Libya.
The rescue ship found itself the focus of European political tension this month when it rescued 60 migrants and took them to Barcelona after being turned away by Malta and Italy.
Charity rescuers pulled the woman from the wreckage where she had lain beside the corpses of another woman and the young boy. One rescuer dived into the sea and grabbed her as she clung to the remains of the boat.
“When we arrived we found one of the women still alive. We could do nothing to save the other woman and the boy who appeared to have died a few hours before we found them,” said Proactiva Open Arms founder, Oscar Camps in a tweet.