Rescue ship carrying migrants reaches Italy after deadly week in Mediterranean

November 20, 2016 6:29 AM EST

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MESSINA, Italy (Reuters) - A rescue ship carrying more than 200 migrants and eight bodies, docked in Sicily on Sunday after a deadly week in the Mediterranean in which hundreds drowned trying to reach Europe from Libya.

Most of the 219 men, women and children on the rescue ship Bourbon Argos were West Africans, according to Doctors without Borders, which operates the ship.

They included 27 men who were rescued by the British navy on Wednesday, and transferred to the Bourbon Argos, after the rubber boat they were on deflated. Six bodies were fished out of the water on Wednesday and 97 others who were on the dinghy are missing and feared dead.

In total, an estimated 365 migrants drowned last week in the Mediterranean, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Friday.

Survivors of the dinghy said that a smuggler towed them out to sea for two hours and then at gunpoint forced them to hand over the life jackets they had paid for, plus the dinghy's engine, and left them adrift.

"At that moment I thought we were going to die, I knew we were not close to Italy and without an engine we could not get far. The smuggler told us we would be rescued, but I felt we were going to die," Abdoullae Diallo, 18, from Senegal said in French in an interview conducted on board the rescue vessel.

The British Royal Navy's HMS Enterprise, patrolling as part of the EU's anti-smuggling mission Sophia, picked up the survivors clinging to what was left of the rubber boat about 55 nautical miles from Tripoli.

The death toll in the Mediterranean -- the most dangerous border crossing on the planet for migrants -- is estimated to be 4,636 this year, 1,000 more than in all of 2015, the IOM said on Friday.

More than 168,000 migrants have reached Italy by boat this year, exceeding 154,000 for the whole of 2015 and quickly approaching 2014's 170,000 record.

Italy has borne the brunt of new arrivals since the implementation in March of an agreement between the European Union and Turkey to curb the flow of migrants sailing for Greece.

(Reporting by Antonio Parrinello, writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Susan Fenton)



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