By Juan Medina
ON BOARD OPEN ARMS, Mediterranean (Reuters) - A woman and a boy adrift in the Mediterranean died just hours before help reached their damaged dinghy, Spanish rescuers said on Tuesday after finding a second woman alive in the vessel, which had been carrying migrants towards Europe.
A rescue boat operated by Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms, with a Reuters witness aboard, went to help the three migrants, stranded about 80 nautical miles off Libya's coast, but found two already dead.
Proactiva Open Arms said the three were left helpless after being abandoned by Libyan coast guards. The Libyans had left the scene after the three refused to board their patrol ship, it said.
The Libyan coast guard could not be immediately reached for comment.
Proactiva Open Arms operates in the deadly central Mediterranean route, where charity boats have been locked out of Italian ports after a vow by Italy's new populist government to crack down on illegal immigration from Libya.
The rescue ship found itself the focus of rising European political tensions over migration earlier this month when it rescued 60 migrants from the central Mediterranean and took them to Barcelona after being turned away by Malta and Italy.
Charity rescuers pulled the woman from the wreckage where she had lain beside the corpses of another woman and a young boy of about four years old. One rescuer dived into the sea and grabbed her as she clung to the remains of the boat.
"When we arrived we found one of the women still alive. We could do nothing to save the other woman and the boy who appeared to have died a few hours before finding them," said Proactiva Open Arms founder Oscar Camps in a tweet.
The coast guard had intercepted the dinghy with 158 people on board and took most of them ashore where they received help.
But when it became clear the two women and boy did not want to board the coast guard vessel, Proactiva said, the Libyans then damaged the dingy and left the three stranded in its remains.
Camps told Reuters TV: "I want to denounce .... the Libyan coast guard that did not know how to manage an emergency situation arriving two days, two nights late and abandoned two women and a child in the remains of a vessel that they themselves destroyed."
Camps added that said a merchant ship sailing in the area had also failed to provide help to the migrant dinghy.
In a criticism of Italy, he added: "This is the direct consequence of not allowing NGOs which rescue lives in the Mediterranean to work there, this is the consequence."
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is also the head of far-right League, is leading a high-profile campaign to exclude humanitarian ships from Italian ports. He says any rescue operations off the Libyan coast should be handled by Libya's limited coast guard.
In apparent response to the comment by Camps, Salvini tweeted: "Lies and insults from some foreign NGO confirm that we are in the right: reducing departures and arrivals means reducing deaths, and reducing the gains of those who speculate on illegal migration."
Rome has played a central role in training the Libyan coast guard, which has been accused of abuses, including shooting at aid workers trying to rescue migrants.
Illegal immigration across the Mediterranean has fallen dramatically, with about 50,000 people making it to Europe this year compared to over a million in 2015. Yet hundreds have died trying to make the deadly crossing from Libya to Europe.
(Reporting by Juan Medina; Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Rome and Isla Binnie in Madrid, Writing by Sonya Dowsett and Paul Day, Editing by William Maclean)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
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Updated Date: Jul 18, 2018 00:08:23 IST