Moments from safety, migrants die trying to reach Europe

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Migrants Rescued from Deflating Dinghy


CATANIA, Sicily (AP) -- 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 died 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.

Some jumped or fell overboard to catch lifesavers tossed into the water by crew members. Others emptied jerry cans of gasoline to use as floats, as the dinghy - already deflated at the front - began taking in water.

"Easy! Easy!" implored a crew member from Zeran's deck.

"There was the big ship there and they threw down ropes," Astoy Fall Dia, a 24 year-old migrant from Senegal, told the AP after disembarking from the cargo ship.

"Someone grabbed onto the rope. All the other people started pushing to try to save themselves but the people started falling in the water."

Dia said she survived because she stayed close to the dinghy, and because she knew how to swim - unlike most of the migrants who come from poor African countries.


More on the migrant crisis

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California drought aerial images
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Moments from safety, migrants die trying to reach Europe
RANCHO SANTA FE, CA - APRIL 04: Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the West. Everyone from Campuses, golf courses and other industrial and recreational facilities, as well as personal, home useage are specifically targeted.(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 04: Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in San Diego, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the West. Everyone from Campuses, golf courses and other industrial and recreational facilities, as well as personal, home useage are specifically targeted.(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
RAMONA, CA-APRIL 4TH: Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in Ramona, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the West. Everyone from Campuses, golf courses and other industrial and recreational facilities, as well as personal, home useage are specifically targeted.(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 04: Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in San Diego, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the West. Everyone from Campuses, golf courses and other industrial and recreational facilities, as well as personal, home useage are specifically targeted.(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
CARLSBAD, CA-APRIL 4TH: Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in Carlsbad, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the West. Everyone from Campuses, golf courses and other industrial and recreational facilities, as well as personal, home useage are specifically targeted.(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 04: Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in San Diego, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the West. Everyone from Campuses, golf courses and other industrial and recreational facilities, as well as personal, home useage are specifically targeted.(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 04: Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in San Diego, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the West. Everyone from Campuses, golf courses and other industrial and recreational facilities, as well as personal, home useage are specifically targeted.(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
RANCHO SANTA FE, CA - APRIL 04: Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the West. Everyone from Campuses, golf courses and other industrial and recreational facilities, as well as personal, home useage are specifically targeted.(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
RANCHO SANTA FE, CA - APRIL 04: Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the West. Everyone from Campuses, golf courses and other industrial and recreational facilities, as well as personal, home useage are specifically targeted.(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
RANCHO SANTA FE, CA - APRIL 04: Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the West. Everyone from Campuses, golf courses and other industrial and recreational facilities, as well as personal, home useage are specifically targeted.(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 04: Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in San Diego, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the West. Everyone from Campuses, golf courses and other industrial and recreational facilities, as well as personal, home useage are specifically targeted.(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 04: Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in San Diego, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the West. Everyone from Campuses, golf courses and other industrial and recreational facilities, as well as personal, home useage are specifically targeted.(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
RANCHO SANTA FE, CA - APRIL 04: Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the West. Everyone from Campuses, golf courses and other industrial and recreational facilities, as well as personal, home useage are specifically targeted.(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
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Five bodies were recovered from inside the dinghy, floating amid garbage and water that had seeped in, though it was clear if they died in the final rush to be rescued as one crew member maintained or during the crossing.

At least another five to nine people fell into the water and drowned, said the seaman who shot the video, though one man floating away with the current and clinging to a lifesaver was rescued by crew on a Zeran lifeboat.

The seaman and other crew members spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Save the Children, which interviewed the survivors upon their arrival, said the migrants reported "dozens" of people died in the rescue 25 miles off the Libyan coast.

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.

The latest deaths come on top of the estimated 800 migrants who are believed to have drowned last month when their boat capsized off Libya with hundreds of passengers locked in the hold by smugglers. A few days earlier, some 400 people were feared drowned in another capsizing.

After those deaths, the European Union held an emergency summit and agreed to contribute more boats and patrol aircraft to Mediterranean rescue efforts.

Even with the increased EU response, commercial cargo ships are increasingly being called on by Italy's coast guard to respond to migrants in need, as required by the law of the sea.

Catania prosecutor Giovanni Salvi complained last month that the commercial crews sometimes aren't trained or equipped to conduct rescues and that lives can be lost when migrants suddenly rush to one side of their unseaworthy boats as they try to get off.

Salvi later backtracked and praised the work and commitment of the commercial vessels.

But when the coast guard rescues migrant boats, it usually sends out inflatable speedboats and crews use loudspeakers to implore the passengers in various languages to stay calm and in their place.

It was clear from the footage obtained by the AP that either there was a language barrier, or the migrants couldn't hear the crew's instructions from high up on the deck - or both - in Sunday's rescue.

A second dinghy, picked up by the Italian navy the same day, suffered no casualties. Those migrants were later transferred to the Zeran.

Alpha Sisse, a 17-year-old from Ivory Coast who was among those rescued from the second boat, said he had talked to survivors from the stricken vessel.

"At least five people drowned, more are missing," he said. "They say maybe 20 people died."

Sisse said he left Libya because of the growing danger from fighting there.

Asked where he hoped to go from here, Sisse said: "Anywhere there is work."

___

Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.

More scenes from the migrant crisis:

22 PHOTOS
Itlay - boat capsizes coast of Libya - migrants (used in article #21173847)
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Moments from safety, migrants die trying to reach Europe
Rescued migrants off the Libyan coast arrive at the harbor in Catania, Italy on April 20, 2015. More than 700 people are feared dead following the capsize off Libya of a fishing boat that had been crammed with migrants trying to reach Europe. (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI via APF/Getty Images)
A migrant disembarks from the Italian Coast Guard ship Gregretti which is believed to be carrying 27 survivors of the migrant shipwreck in the mediterranean, at Catania port on April 20, 2015 in Catania, Italy. The weekend saw the worst disaster of its kind as hundreds of migrants are believed to have perished as they attempted to cross the mediterranean from Libya to Italy in order to seek refuge. (Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)
Women leave flowers in memory of victims near the Italian Coast Guard ship Gregretti which is believed to be carrying 27 survivors of the migrant shipwreck in the mediterranean, at Catania port on April 20, 2015 in Catania, Italy. The weekend saw the worst disaster of its kind as hundreds of migrants are believed to have perished as they attempted to cross the mediterranean from Libya to Italy in order to seek refuge. (Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)
Italian Minister Graziano Delrio stands on the deck of Italian Coast Guard ship Gregretti which is believed to be carrying 27 survivors of the migrant shipwreck in the mediterranean, at Catania port on April 20, 2015 in Catania, Italy. The weekend saw the worst disaster of its kind as hundreds of migrants are believed to have perished as they attempted to cross the mediterranean from Libya to Italy in order to seek refuge. (Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)
A migrant is pictured at the Palazzolo Acreide immigration center, on April 17, 2015 in Sicily. The U.N. refugee agency said over 35,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea (including 23,500 who landed in Italy and over 12,000 in Greece) in 2015. At the same time, some 950 people have been reported dead or missing at sea. Last year some 219,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean (Italy alone received over 170,000). Most of them were rescued by the Italian Navy, the Coast Guard or merchant vessels. It is estimated that some 3,500 people lost their lives at sea last year. AFP PHOTO / GIOVANNI ISOLINO (Photo credit should read GIOVANNI ISOLINO/AFP/Getty Images)
Local residents and rescue workers help a migrant woman after a boat carrying migrants sank off the island of Rhodes, southeastern Greece, on April 20, 2015. At least three people, including a child, died when a boat carrying more than 80 migrants sank off the Greek island of Rhodes today, police said.(Photo credit: ARGIRIS MANTIKOS/AFP/Getty Images)
An Italian Naval officer saltes as the body of a person who died after a fishing boat carrying migrants capsized off the Libyan coast, is brought ashore along with 23 others retreived by the Italian Coast Guard vessel Bruno Gregoretti at Boiler Wharf, Senglea in Malta on April 20, 2015. More than 700 people are feared dead following the capsize off Libya of a fishing boat that had been crammed with migrants trying to reach Europe. (Photo credit: Matthew Mirabelli/AFP/Getty Images)
Survivors of an accident in which a fishing boat carrying migrants capsized off the Libyan coast, sit on the deck of the Italian Coast Guard vessel Bruno Gregoretti at Boiler Wharf, Senglea in Malta on April 20, 2015. More than 700 people are feared dead following the capsize off Libya of a fishing boat that had been crammed with migrants trying to reach Europe.(Photo credit: Matthew Mirabelli/AFP/Getty Images)
An Italian naval officer salutes as the body of person who died after fishing boat carrying migrants capsized off the Libyan coast, is brought ashore along with 23 others retreived by the Italian Coast Guard vessel Bruno Gregoretti at Boiler Wharf, Senglea in Malta on April 20, 2015. More than 700 people are feared dead following the capsize off Libya of a fishing boat that had been crammed with migrants trying to reach Europe. (Photo credit: Matthew Mirabelli/AFP/Getty Images)
Italian Coast Guard vessel Bruno Gregoretti sits in the dock at Boiler Wharf, Senglea in Malta on April 20, 2015, after bringing survivors and the bodies of victims of a boat capsize. More than 700 people are feared dead following the capsize off Libya of a fishing boat that had been crammed with migrants trying to reach Europe.  (Photo credit: Matthew Mirabelli/AFP/Getty Images)
Survivors from the shipwreck of a boat arrive on April 15, 2015 aboard the tanker Maria Bottiglieri in the port of Corigliano Calabro. Italian coastguards intercepted 42 boats on April 12 and 13, carrying 6,500 migrants attempting to make the hazardous crossing to Europe. AFP PHOTO / ALFONSO DI VINCENZO (Photo credit should read ALFONSO DI VINCENZO/AFP/Getty Images)
Shipwrecked migrants sit on the deck of a rescue vessel as they arrive in the Italian port of Augusta in Sicily on April 16, 2015. As many as 41 migrants drowned after a small boat carrying refugees sank in the Mediterranean, Italian media said, days after 400 were lost in another shipwreck. Four survivors told Italian police and humanitarian organisations that their inflatable vessel sank not long after leaving the coast of Libya for Europe with 45 people on board. AFP PHOTO / GIOVANNI ISOLINO (Photo credit should read GIOVANNI ISOLINO/AFP/Getty Images)
Italian Red Cross personnel prepare to give first aid to shipwrecked migrants as they arrive in the Italian port of Augusta in Sicily on April 16, 2015. As many as 41 migrants drowned after a small boat carrying refugees sank in the Mediterranean, Italian media said, days after 400 were lost in another shipwreck. Four survivors told Italian police and humanitarian organisations that their inflatable vessel sank not long after leaving the coast of Libya for Europe with 45 people on board. AFP PHOTO / GIOVANNI ISOLINO (Photo credit should read GIOVANNI ISOLINO/AFP/Getty Images)
TV crews wait at the Catania's habour, in Sicily, for the arrival of the Italian Coast Guard vessel Bruno Gregoretti on April 20, 2015 as more than 700 people are feared dead after a fishing boat crammed with migrants seeking a better life in Europe capsized off Libya, with some survivors suggesting nearly 1,000 could have been on board. Italian and Maltese navy boats meanwhile continued a desperate search for the victims of Sunday's disaster, as an Italian vessel brought the first group of survivors and 24 bodies to Malta. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Medics take care of migrants disembarking from a boat in the port of Messina after a rescue operation at see on April 18, 2015 in Sicily. A surge of migrants pouring into Europe from across the Mediterranean won't end before chaos in Libya is controlled, Italy's prime minister said yesterday, as the Vatican condemned a deadly clash between Muslim and Christian refugees on one boat. Italian authorities have rescued more than 11,000 migrants making the often deadly voyage from North Africa in the past six days, with hundreds more expected, the coastguard said.(Photo credit: GIOVANNI ISOLINO/AFP/Getty Images)
A boat transporting migrants arrives in the port of Messina after a rescue operation at see on April 18, 2015 in Sicily. A surge of migrants pouring into Europe from across the Mediterranean won't end before chaos in Libya is controlled, Italy's prime minister said yesterday, as the Vatican condemned a deadly clash between Muslim and Christian refugees on one boat. Italian authorities have rescued more than 11,000 migrants making the often deadly voyage from North Africa in the past six days, with hundreds more expected, the coastguard said. (Photo credit:  GIOVANNI ISOLINO/AFP/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - APRIL 20: People stage a demonstration for the migrants who drowned of around 700 migrants off the Libyan coast on Sunday, in Brussels, Belgium on April 20, 2015. Around 700 migrants are dead after a migrant boat capsized in the Mediterranean sea, in the the Strait of Sicily, between Italy and Libya, an Italian coast guard official has said on Sunday. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - APRIL 20: People stage a demonstration for the migrants who drowned of around 700 migrants off the Libyan coast on Sunday, in Brussels, Belgium on April 20, 2015. Around 700 migrants are dead after a migrant boat capsized in the Mediterranean sea, in the the Strait of Sicily, between Italy and Libya, an Italian coast guard official has said on Sunday. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CATANIA, ITALY - APRIL 20: A banner reading 'No more shipwreck, European Right of Asylum to avoid further deaths' is shown at the Catania port prior an Italian Coast Guard ship that will arrive in the evening in the Port of Catania carrying 27 migrant survivors of a shipwricking between Sicily and north of Africa on April 20, 2015 in Catania, Italy. The weekend saw the worst disaster of its kind as hundreds of migrants are believed to have perished as they attempted to cross the mediterranean from Libya to Italy in order to seek refuge. (Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - APRIL 20: People stage a demonstration for the migrants who drowned of around 700 migrants off the Libyan coast on Sunday, in Brussels, Belgium on April 20, 2015. Around 700 migrants are dead after a migrant boat capsized in the Mediterranean sea, in the the Strait of Sicily, between Italy and Libya, an Italian coast guard official has said on Sunday. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - APRIL 20: People stage a demonstration for the migrants who drowned of around 700 migrants off the Libyan coast on Sunday, in Brussels, Belgium on April 20, 2015. Around 700 migrants are dead after a migrant boat capsized in the Mediterranean sea, in the the Strait of Sicily, between Italy and Libya, an Italian coast guard official has said on Sunday. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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