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article imageWoman, small child found dead in deflated dinghy off Libya: AFP

By Fanny CARRIER (AFP)     Jul 17, 2018 in World

Rescuers operating off the coast of Libya discovered the bodies of a small child and woman in a deflated dinghy Tuesday, while a second woman was found alive but suffering from hypothermia and shock, an AFP photographer reported.

The fate of other migrants likely to have been aboard the dinghy -- which was found around 80 nautical miles northeast of Tripoli -- was not immediately clear.

The Libyan coastguard announced that they had rescued 158 people from a dinghy on Monday 16 nautical miles from Khoms, relatively far from where the deflated raft was discovered.

The dinghy -- which was discovered by rescuers from the Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms -- was completely deflated, with the victims lying on the few wooden planks that remained afloat.

Spanish rescue workers went to the scene after hearing a radio exchange on Monday night between a cargo ship and a Libyan coastguard vessel about a boat in distress, the charity said.

The cargo ship remained in the area for several hours, until the coastguard assured it was on its way.

The Spanish NGO accuses the Libyans of helping other migrants but leaving the two women and the child for dead.

When questioned by the AFP, the Libyan coastguard declined to comment.

The Libyan coastguard does not usually bring back the bodies of migrants found dead at sea, saying they focus their efforts on rescuing the living.

They also face the refusal of the authorities in Tripoli to take charge of the bodies upon arrival at port, due to lack of space in morgues or cemeteries.

- 'Ports closed, hearts open' -

Rescuers said the boy was around five years old.

The survivor identified herself only as Josepha, saying she was 40 years old and from the West African state of Cameroon.

The rescue ship's medical team said she was in a stable condition but was traumatised, adding that she needed medical and psychological treatment "as soon as possible".

The medical team called for the quick transfer of the two bodies as the ship does not have refrigera...
The medical team called for the quick transfer of the two bodies as the ship does not have refrigeration facilities to store the bodies

The team also called for the quick transfer of the two bodies, as the Open Arms ship does not have refrigeration facilities to store the bodies.

The Open Arms and the Spanish charity's other ship, the Astral, returned to Libyan waters on Tuesday after several weeks of absence from the area.

Italy and Malta are cracking down on NGO boats operating in the Mediterranean, sharply reining in their rescue efforts.

Italy's hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has announced that the country's ports will be closed to charity rescue boats which he accuses of indirectly aiding human traffickers.

Malta has also banned the ships from stopping over at its ports.

Upon the boats' return to Libyan waters Salvini -- who is head of the far-right League party -- tweeted:

"Two Spanish NGO ships have returned to the Mediterranean waiting to be loaded with human beings. They should save themselves time and money, they will only see Italian ports on postcards."

Italy's new populist government has promised to stop migrant arrivals to Italy pressuring Libya to take charge of rescues missions in the Mediterranean.

Erasmo Palazzotto, an Italian leftwing MP present on the Open Arms, wrote on Twitter: "Matteo Salvini, this is what the Libyan Coastguard does when it makes a humanitarian rescue."

Salvini responded to criticism denouncing "lies and insults (that) confirm that we are doing the right thing: reducing departures and landings means reducing deaths, and reducing the profits of those who speculate on illegal immigration," he wrote on Twitter, adding: "I stand firm, ports closed and hearts open."

In recent years, hundreds of thousands fleeing war and poverty have made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe.

Thousands have died attempting the trip.

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