Pictured are survivors of the wooden boat in the Mediterranean brought aboard Irish and Italian Navy life-boats.

The latest tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea, in which hundreds of people drowned after a boat carrying up to around 600 people capsized close to the Libyan shore, underscores a severe lack of adequate search and rescue operations in the area, says Médécins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

The wooden boat capsized, shortly before the MSF search and rescue ship ‘Dignity I’ arrived at the scene. MSF initially received a call from Rome’s Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre about a wooden boat in distress at around 9am this morning, but while en-route was diverted to carry out a rescue of another vessel.

This rescue, of 94 people, was completed around 12.30pm. The ‘Dignity I’ then received another call asking for it to continue on to assist the original vessel. As ‘Dignity I’ approached, the Irish Naval vessel LE Niamh that had arrived first at the scene was already conducting rescue operations as the wooden boat had already capsized. Around 300 people are believed to have survived.

“It was a horrific sight; people were desperately clinging to lifebelts, boats and anything they could, fighting for their lives, amidst people drowning, and those who had already died,”said Juan Matías, MSF project coordinator on the ‘Dignity I’.

“The fact that we were first called to assist this boat and then shortly afterwards sent to another one highlights the severe lack of resources available for rescue operations.”

Other rescue ships continued to arrive to the area to assist, and the Dignity I provided medical treatment to ten people. Five were in such severe condition that they needed to be evacuated by helicopter. The MSF rescue ships ‘Bourbon Argos’ and ‘MY Phoenix’, operated by MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) were also deployed.

Prior to today´s tragedy, 1941 people are already believed to have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. MSF began its search and rescue operations in in May, and so far has rescued more than 10,000 people.