Around 250 African migrants are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean after a rescue boat found two partially submerged rubber dinghies off Libya, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.
Laura Lanuza of Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms said its boat Golfo Azzuro had recovered five floating corpses close to the dinghies, about 15 miles off the Libyan coast.
“We don't think there can be any other explanation than that these dinghies would have been full of people,” she told AFP.
She added that they would typically have been carrying 120-140 migrants each.
“In over a year we have never seen any of these dinghies that were anything other than packed,” she added.
Lanuza said the bodies recovered were African men with estimated ages of between 16 and 25. They had drowned, apparently in the 24 hours prior to them being discovered shortly after dawn on Thursday in waters directly north of the Libyan port of Sabrata.
Despite rough winter seas, migrant departures from Libya on boats chartered by people traffickers have accelerated in recent months from already-record levels.
Over 5,000 people have been picked up by rescue boats since Sunday, bringing the number brought to Italy since the start of 2017 to over 21,000, a sharp rise on the same period in previous years.