Written by Staff Writer at CNN, Hadas Gold, CNN
At least 27 people drowned Wednesday after an inflatable boat carrying Tunisian migrants capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of France, according to authorities and survivors’ testimonies.
An unnamed Tunisian survivor told rescuers that the boat was carrying about 50 people when it sank off the port of Sisco, about 100 kilometers north of Marseille.
“He told us that everyone was sleeping when the waves crashed on the boat,” Thomas Dubose, a spokesman for the French port of Marseille, told CNN.
During the operation, one man — whose body was the only one recovered — reportedly rushed to help a young boy who was struggling to swim to shore but was unable to do so due to the large sea.
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The Tunisian survivor told rescuers that the boat sunk within minutes and started sending out distress calls.
“He said the conditions were bad and the boat started to sink, sinking quickly, and he told us (people) that when the boat sank everyone was clinging to each other and that some people were missing,” Dubose said.
Locations searched included the Cote d’Azur and Marseille, France, Dubose said. “We cannot speculate what happened,” he added.
Among the survivors, five people are in a stable condition. They were transferred to hospital in Marseille while 28 other migrants remain missing, according to Dubose.
Nicolas Vallat, a manager for Doctors Without Borders, said that medical teams were on their way to help survivors, but said some who had been brought to the area were severely dehydrated.
“They are dehydrated … They are not in stable condition, but their conditions are better than they were from the moment that they were brought to the shore,” Vallat told CNN.
According to International Organization for Migration data, there were 1,149 people who died attempting to cross the Mediterranean last year.
According to IOM, the vast majority of migrants believed to have died in the incident had made their way to the other side of the Mediterranean by October 2018, nine months after the start of the sea crossing into Europe from North Africa.
In 2017, 1,574 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean.