Young men piled over each other, some shimmying up ropes dangling from the towering rescue ship and others falling into the churning sea. Women and children were the last off the stricken dinghy during a chaotic Mediterranean rescue in which at least five migrants were crushed to death and more were feared drowned.
Dramatic footage shot by a seaman aboard the Maltese freighter showed the weekend rescue of more than 100 West Africans aboard the flimsy boat off the coast of Libya. Survivors were brought Tuesday to the Sicilian port of Catania.
The video, obtained by The Associated Press, highlights the danger of marine rescue, where safety and tragedy too often lie just moments apart. With tens of thousands trying to cross the sea on small boats launched by human traffickers from Libya — and hundreds dying in the attempt — the question of how best to save migrants from drowning has taken center stage in Europe.
Crew members interviewed by the AP said everyone aboard the cargo ship Zeran had undergone rescue training. But while a previous rescue several weeks ago happened calmly without any loss of life, on Sunday elation at the prospect of being saved quickly turned to panic.
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.
The weekend saw a dramatic increase in rescues as smugglers in Libya took advantage of calm seas and warm weather to send thousands of would-be refugees out into the Mediterranean in overloaded rubber boats and fishing vessels. The coast guard reported that nearly 7,000 people were rescued in the three days ending Sunday.