Around 2,600 migrants were saved in the Mediterranean Sea today in several rescue operations, according to the Italian Coast Guard.
MOAS, the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, a Malta-based foundation that provides search and rescue at sea, assisted in the rescue of at least 354 migrants. Seven people died, according to MOAS.
The five women and two men who lost their lives trying to reach Europe were on board an overloaded rubber boat. People were frightened and inhaling toxic fumes from the vessel's broken engine, according to a statement released by MOAS.
When panic broke out on the boat, many people who could not swim fell or jumped into the water. Rescue swimmers from MOAS were able to save 134 people from that boat, including 99 men, 29 women and six children. In total, MOAS rescued 354 who are now being attended to by the Italian Red Cross, the statement said.
Today's operations are the latest in a series of recent migrant rescues at sea. In only one week, from Sunday Aug. 28 until Friday Sept. 2, around 12,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, the International Organization for Migration told ABC News.
While the number of refugees trying to reach Europe via the route from Turkey to Greece has fallen dramatically, the use of the North Africa to Italy route has remained constant – and has seen an increase in the number of deaths, making 2016 the deadliest year so far for refugees in the Central Mediterranean, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
“The chances of dying on the Libya to Italy route are ten times higher than when crossing from Turkey to Greece,” William Spindler, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees told journalists at a media briefing Friday.
In 2015 and in the first half of 2016, over 6,600 refugees or migrants drowned or went missing in the Mediterranean after their boats capsized while trying to reach Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration.