More than 70 refugees have died in the latest boat disaster in the Mediterranean Sea as deaths on the crossings between Libya and Italy reach record highs.
The Libyan Red Crescent said the bodies of 74 migrants had washed ashore near the city of Zawiyah, which is a hub for smugglers launching boats towards Europe.
The port’s coastguard posted a video showing a ruined dinghy lying without an engine on the shoreline as the first bodies were recovered.
The victims, thought to be sub-Saharan Africans, were put inside numbered body bags and lined up along the beach, which was littered with debris as large waves crashed on the shore.
Drowned migrants are frequently washed up on Libya’s coastline after sinkings at sea but the discovery of bodies inside the boat raised questions about the cause of the latest disaster.
Joel Millman, from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said it the boat’s engine was believed to have been removed at sea, possibly by smugglers or armed gangs.
“In most cases you don’t find remains in a boat – you find them washed up or floating, although there have been cases of suffocation on board,” he told The Independent.
“We have heard about arguments occurring with smugglers, where people refuse to get in a boat because they are concerned it isn’t seaworthy.
“Then there’s violence and people are killed, while the rest are forced inside. In this case we just don’t know what happened.”
Mr Millman suggested that the incident could have resulted from the “deliberate punishment or murder of migrants”.