At least five migrants die in shipwreck off Libya, NGO says

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Migrants at sea waiting to be rescued by Spanish search and rescue ship Open Arms in the Mediterranean Sea
Migrants at sea waiting to be rescued by Spanish search and rescue ship Open Arms in the Mediterranean Sea

ROME (Reuters) - At least 5 people have died in a migrant shipwreck in the central Mediterranean, Spanish charity Open Arms said on Wednesday, warning that the number of fatalities could grow as rescue operations continue.

Some 100 people had been traveling for about two days on a dinghy that collapsed in international waters off Libya where it was assisted by Open Arms, the NGO said.

It said it was carrying out the rescue operation on its own, with just two speed boats and six rescuers.

"That's what happens when you leave people at sea for days," the charity wrote on Twitter.

On Tuesday, Open Arms rescued 88 more people who are still on board its ship with some 20 crew members. The charity has said it will now ask Rome to allow the migrants to disembark on the nearby Italian island of Lampedusa.

"We need the governments to set up a new joint sea rescue operation and humanitarian corridors to grant safe routes of movement and escape," said Riccardo Gatti, president of Open Arms Italy.

Italy is the primary route for migrants departing mostly from Tunisia and Libya to reach Europe.

Some 30,800 people have arrived so far in 2020, with numbers picking up again after years of decline marked by an Italian-led effort to disrupt smuggling networks and support the Libyan coastguard in its attempts to intercept boats.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante, editing by Gavin Jones and Toby Chopra)