An effort to rescue a group of West Africans trying to illegally sail to Europe turned to mayhem this weekend as some 100 migrants tried to scramble out of a sinking dinghy, trampling others to death in the process.
The Associated Press, which obtained video captured by seamen on a Maltese ship who rescued the migrants with ropes and a ladder, reported that the men pushed their way out first, leaving women and children last. By the end of the saga, five lifeless bodies were found at the bottom of the inflatable boat, having been crushed to death by their panicked peers.
The AP described the scene conveyed by one of the cargo ship’s crew members who helped in the rescue effort:
Unaware that they would be thrown a ladder, frantic migrants trampled over one another to reach the ropes that were meant to hold it in place, with some dangling precariously as they clambered along the lines to reach the tall freighter.
Some jumped or fell overboard to catch lifesavers tossed into the water by crew members. Others emptied jerry cans of gasoline to use as floats, as the dinghy - already deflated at the front - began taking in water.
"Someone grabbed onto the rope. All the other people started pushing to try to save themselves but the people started falling in the water," Astou Fall Dia, a Senegalese passenger, told the AP.
A preliminary investigation by the prosecutor’s office in Catania, on the coast of Sicily where the migrants were brought, concluded that the five people were crushed to death in the rush.
Europe has faced a huge wave of illegal immigration attempts from Africa by sea, with some 7,000 migrants rescued just this past weekend, the AP reported.
Hundreds have died trying to make the journey on crammed smuggler’s boats, which set sail from Libya and head to the nearest European coast of Italy.
Last month, an estimated 900 people were believed to have drowned when they were locked in the hold of their ship that capsized.
The Maltese ship's sailors said they believe that in addition to the five who were found dead at the bottom of the dingy, at least five others fell into the water and drowned.