List of migrant vessel incidents on the Mediterranean Sea

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Migrants aboard an inflatable vessel before their rescue co-ordinated by USS Carney near Spain in February 2013

This article is a list of migrant vessel incidents on the Mediterranean Sea leading up to and resulting from the European migrant crisis with recent migration also related to developments such as the Arab Spring protests (2010-2012), the Syrian Civil War (since 2011), the Second Libyan Civil War (2014-2020), and emerging conflicts in Sudan and Niger in 2023.

Over 26,000 people have died or have been declared missing while in migration across the Mediterranean Sea since 2014.[1] The Deaths at the Border project at the University of Amsterdam estimates that 3,188 people died while trying to reach Europe between 1990 and 2013.[2]

By comparison, a total of 609 people lost their lives in maritime accidents between 2011 and 2021 which involved vessels registered by European Union countries or other registered vessels in EU waters.[3]

Routes and context[edit]

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has identified three key routes on which migrants in the region travel into Europe by sea or, in some cases, coastal routes:

Journeys before these crossings also carry a high risk for the people involved as they include crossing remote terrains, such as the Sahara Desert, and residing in countries in conflict such as Libya and Syria,[4] from where civil wars with international intervention have led to considerable forced migration since the Arab Spring.

Women and children rescued by the Irish Naval Service patrol vessel LÉ Eithne during Operation Triton in June 2015, off Libya.

Economic differences between the countries on the shores of the Mediterranean also cause economic migration to Europe as people seek higher wages and a better quality of life. IMF data for 2023 provide the following ranking in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP), in countries on major routes:[5]

GDP per capita in Turkey ($41,412) and Greece ($39,478) is comparable; the Aegean Sea is a transit route for migrants from elsewhere. Southern Italy and Andalusia are, by this measure, similar to North Africa ($17,000-18,000) although the Schengen zone allows for further northward migration.[6][7]

Countries beyond immediate countries of origin experience considerable conflict and widespread poverty (and, increasingly, climate change) within a relatively short journey time to Europe. Some of the world's lowest living standards are experienced in Syria ($6,374 per capita GDP at pre-war levels), Sudan ($4,471) and Niger (£1,600).[5]


During the Cold War, migration by land or sea in the region was limited (or highly regulated) by the presence of authoritarian regimes and also relatively generous safe and legal immigration routes into Western Europe. In the years from 1990 onwards, migration across the Mediterranean Sea and Adriatic Sea increased for both economic reasons (with people travelling from developing countries in Africa and Asia) and as a result of conflict. For example, several conflicts in Africa, the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001), the Algerian Civil War (1991-2002), and the 1997 civil unrest in Albania prompted several million people to leave or consider leaving their home countries as refugees. The events of the Arab Spring had a similar effect early in the second decade of the 21st Century, especially as a result of wars in Syria and Libya.

The loss of European ships, such as the Costa Concordia in 2012, received substantially more public and media attention than that of migrant vessels during this time.[8]

Memorial at Capo Passero, Sicily, for the sinking of the wooden ship F174 at Christmas 1996, resulting in over 280 lost lives

Pope Francis, however, highlighted the plight of migrants in 2013 when he visited Lampedusa, a southern Italian island which frequently serves as a reception centre for migrants. He remarked: "These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, fail to find solidarity. And their cry rises up to God."[9]

2014 was a turning point in terms of scale, although that does not diminish the sense of loss experienced by families and in home communities in previous times. In that year, 3,538 people died or went missing at sea according to UNHCR statistics; 3,289 dead or missing persons were recorded by the IOM's Missing Migrants Project. In trends repeated year on year from then onwards, most loss of life occurred in the Central Mediterranean area between Italy, Libya, Malta and Tunisia (but not exclusively) and mainly due to drowning (although with other accidents and causes also present).[10][11]

Around 500 people died during the 2014 Malta migrant shipwreck on 11 September 2014.[12] The eleven survivors included Doaa Al Zamel, whose story is featured in the 2017 book, A Hope More Powerful than the Sea.[13]

Date Location Passengers Confirmed
Missing Known
21 May 2007 off Malta 53 0 53 0
27 March 2009 off Libya cca. 250 98 cca. 131 21
March/April 2009 off Libya cca. 250 0 cca. 250 0
March/April 2009 off Libya cca. 250 0 cca. 250 0
6 April 2011 off Lampedusa cca. 300 20 130+ 51
3 October 2013 off Lampedusa 500+ 359 30+ 155
11 October 2013 off Lampedusa 200+ 34 20+ 147
11 September 2014 off Malta 500+ 0 500+ 9
15 September 2014 off Libya cca. 250 0 cca. 250 36


Sinking of migrant vessels in 2015
List of migrant vessel incidents on the Mediterranean Sea is located in Mediterranean
List of migrant vessel incidents on the Mediterranean Sea (Mediterranean)
CauseVessels capsized
OutcomeSinkings of several vessels, search and rescue operations
Missing2,216 (UNHCR estimate)

The year 2015 became the most significant in the crisis until that time, in terms of people dying or missing while migrating across the Mediterranean Sea, accompanied by a major increase in international public and media attention. A total of 3,771 deaths or incidents of individual missing persons were recorded by the UNHCR – 2,216 missing and 1,555 found dead.

The Central Mediterranean accounted for the majority of casualties – 2,911 people – followed by 793 in the Eastern Mediterranean and 67 in the Western Mediterranean.[14]

The IOM estimates that the total number of dead and missing people was higher, at 4,055 persons, although in similar locations by route – 3,149 in the Central region, 804 in the Eastern region, and 102 in the Western region – and 3,737 by drowning and 113 through related accidents.[15][16]


On 13 April 2015, a vessel sank off the Libyan coast with up to 550 migrants on board. More than 400 people are believed to have drowned.[17] 144–150 people were rescued and were taken to a hospital in Southern Italy.[18] The capsizing occurred 60 nautical miles (110 km) off the Libyan coast.[19]

Air and sea search operations started in the location of the shipwreck, looking for survivors. Nine bodies were recovered; the Italian Coast Guard stated that "no more survivors have been found".

On 16 April, four immigrants arriving in Sicily said they were the only survivors of a sunken ship. They said that 41 people had drowned when their vessel overturned and sank shortly after departing from Libya.[20][21] In an unrelated incident, 15 people were arrested in Sicily following reports that they had thrown 12 other passengers overboard, causing them to drown. According to eyewitnesses, a fight had broken out between Christian and Muslim groups on a boat that left Libya on 14 April, resulting in 12 Christians being thrown overboard.[22][23]

Cross made with wood of broken immigration boats in Lampedusa

On 19 April, a boat that had just left the port city of Zuwarah, Tripoli, capsized off the Libyan coast during the night, with up to 850 migrants aboard. 28 people were rescued.[24] The incident happened 60 miles (100 km) off the Libyan coast and 120 miles (190 km) south of the southern Italian island, Lampedusa.[25] The boat may have capsized when people on board moved to one side when a ship approached. Italian prosecutors say that a Bangladeshi survivor estimated 950 people were on board, and smugglers locked hundreds of the migrants in the ship's hold.[26] Among the people on board were about 350 Eritreans, 200 Senegalese, as well as migrants from Syria, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Gambia, Ivory Coast and Ethiopia.[27][28]

The Maltese Navy and Italian Coast Guard began mounting a rescue operation.[29] Despite 18 ships joining the rescue effort, only 28 survivors and 24 bodies were pulled from the water by nightfall.[30][26] This incident is cited by some as the shipwreck with the highest death toll in the history of the Mediterranean.[31] Among other incidents, however, the sinking of the SS Oria in 1944, with a death toll of over 4,000, claimed more lives.

On 21 April Italian officials reported that the Tunisian captain of the boat had been charged with reckless multiple homicide. It was also reported that the children on board had drowned because they were trapped on the boat's lower two levels.[30][32]

The Italian Navy, at the request of the Prosecutor of Catania, has made available the minesweepers Gaeta and Vieste, along with the corvette Sfinge, for search and localization of the vessel sank.

On 7 May 2015 a wreck of a length of 25 metres was located approximately 85 miles north east of the Libyan coast at a depth of 375 metres. The Italian Navy said it was correlated with the wreck of the vessel sank on 18 April.[33]

A boat carrying migrants reportedly sank off the east coast of Rhodes, Greece on 20 April, after striking a reef. Initial reports suggested that there had been at least three deaths. 93 people were rescued from the water, with 30 individuals hospitalized.[34] In contrast to the other wrecked ships, which have come from Libya, this boat had departed from Turkey.[35]

Two further reports of ships in distress in the waters between Libya and Italy appeared on 20 April.[36] It was stated that one boat contained up to 150 people, with the other containing up to 300. The precise locations of these boats was not revealed, and it was unclear whether these reports refer to separate vessels.[37] The Italian and Maltese navies are reported as having responded to these calls.[30][37] On Tuesday 21 April it was reported that all 450 passengers had been rescued, despite initial reports of deaths.[38]


Rescue operations and landings of migrants continued on the coasts of Sicily and Calabria. The ship Phoenix arrived in Pozzallo carrying 369 migrants. Other 675 people landed in Augusta and in 300 were rescued off the coast of Calabria. A ship container Zeran, arrived in Catania with 197 people, there were five dead bodies. According to Save the Children 40 other immigrants lost their lives at sea.[39] In Crotone the Panamanian tanker Prince I brought 250 migrants rescued to the Channel of Sicily, but also the bodies of three others, two women and a man, recovered at sea during a rescue.

Meanwhile, there was also alarm over diseases: about 150 of the 675 migrants who arrived on the ship Vega in Augusta[40][41] were put in isolation in the port for suspected cases of chickenpox and scabies.[42] For doctors there is no danger of contagion and the situation would be under control.[clarification needed] Most patients are tested and debilitated by a wait of two months in warehouses in Libya with little food and water.[citation needed]

In Trapani, 104 immigrants arrived on a cargo ship; another 483 arrived in Palermo on the Italian Navy ship Borsini. This also led to a growth of the number of smugglers arrested by the Italian police forces.

Off the coast of Calabria, a rescue operation at about 300 migrants on board a fishing vessel in poor buoyancy occurred about 80 miles from the coast of Calabria.

The Italian Navy rescued 217 migrants who were on board the boats adrift in the channel of Sicily. Also recovered 17 corpses. In the last 24 hours rescued 3,300 migrants.[43]


283 migrants aboard three boats were rescued by the German warship Schleswig-Holstein at few miles from the Libyan coast and landed in the port of Augusta in Sicily, while 40 are missing or dead according to the testimonies of survivors.


49 migrants killed by fumes while packed into hold and prevented from exiting the hold by the ship's crew off the coast of Libya; survivors were rescued by the Italian Navy and the ship's captain and crew were arrested.[44][45]

Six migrants drown off the coast of Turkey attempting to reach a Greek island.[46]

50 migrants killed by fumes while packed into the hold and prevented from exiting by the ship's crew off the coast of Libya; survivors were rescued by a Swedish unit. On the boat there traveled another 400 migrants who were rescued.


A further 96 confirmed deaths were recorded in September 2015.

Date Location Passengers Confirmed deaths Missing Known survivors
13 April[47] off Libya cca. 550 9 400+ 144–150
19 April off Libya cca. 850 24 800+ 28
20 April off Rhodes 96 3 0 93
3 May[48] off Libya 3500 (multiple vessels) 10+ ? ?
5 May off Catania Unknown 5 40+ 197
5 May off Crotone 250+ 3 Unknown 250
29 May[43] off Lampedusa 234+ 17 Unknown 217
23 July off Libya 300+ 40+ 40+ 283
27 July off Libya 522 13 ? ?
1 August off Libya 780 5 ? ?
5 August off Libya 370 26 200 ?
11 August off Libya 120 50 50+ ?
15 August[44][45] off Libya cca. 400 49 0 cca. 350
18 August[46] off Turkey Unknown 6 Unknown 0
25 August off Libya cca. 450 50 0 cca. 400
27 August off Libya ? 160 200+ ?
30 August off Libya ? 7 ? ?
1 September off Kos ? 11 ? ?
6 September off Lampedusa ? 20 ? ?
13 September off Farmakonissi 112 34 ? ?
15 September off Turkey 250 22 ? ?
30 September off Lesbos ? 2 11 ? 45


2016 marked the highest number of deaths and disappearances at sea – 5,096 as recorded by the UNHCR. The majority of these casualties were caused in incidents in the Central region (resulting in 4,234 persons dead or missing), followed by the Eastern region (760 persons), and the Western region (102 persons).[49] Information gathered by the IOM found a similar total, of 5,136 persons dead or missing at sea, including 4,498 by drowning.[50]

On 21 September 2016, a boat capsized off the Egyptian coast with around 600 migrants on board in the Mediterranean Sea. 204 bodies were recovered (including at least 30 children) and around 160 people were rescued, as tens of people remain missing, with approximately 300 people predicted to have died. Four people were arrested for trafficking and breaking capacity laws. The incident may be the worst this year in the Mediterranean Sea.[51][52][53][54]

On 3 November, around 240 people died in two migrant boat capsizing incidents off the coast of Libya. 29 people survived the first wreck, with about 120 deaths reported. Only two people survived the second wreck, with again around 120 deaths reported.[55] Another hundred people are believed to have drowned off the coast when their boat sank after they were abandoned off Libya without a motor on 17 November. 27 survivors were transported to Italy. An estimated 4,700 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in 2016.[56]


While lower than in each of the two previous years, the number of people who died or were declared missing at sea in 2017 remained significant, estimated at 3,139 by the UNHCR – 2,344 missing persons and 795 found dead.

The vast majority of these casualties were recorded in Central Mediterranean (2,874) with a significant decrease in the Eastern region (to 56) and 209 persons dead or missing in the Western region.[57] The same overall total was recorded by the IOM, which also recorded 2,891 drownings.[58]

Monthly deaths peaked in May, with 623 dying that month; a further 539 were listed as dead or missing in June. At least one incident with more than 20 dead or missing was recorded in every month except December.[59]


The number of casualties continued to decrease in 2018 although it remained substantial at 2,270 deaths and disappearances. A total of 1,600 people were missing at sea and 670 found dead after a sinking.[60]

This year continued to see significant loss of life in the Central Mediterranean (1,279 dead or missing persons estimated by the UNHCR) and the Western Mediterranean (804 deaths or missing person incidents), and also 187 in the Eastern region. The Missing Migrants Project recorded 2,337 migrants as dead or missing, including 2,214 in drowning incidents.[61]

On 8 October, Italian authorities rescued 22 Europe-bound migrants from a boat carrying around 50 people. At the time of the rescue, the bodies of 13 women were also found, and it was later revealed that others were still missing. On 16 October, Italian authorities found the bodies of at least 12 people who had died in the incident.[62]

In November, Italian coast guards rescued 149 Europe-bound migrants after their boat capsized on 23 November. Italian coast guards found five dead bodies afterwards and confirmed that the death toll from the incident totalled at least 18.[63]


UNHCR statistics record that 1,335 people died or were declared missing on migration routes in the Mediterranean Sea in 2019 – of whom 1,063 were missing and 272 found dead. Most of these casualties occurred on the Central route (754), followed by the Western route (510) and the Eastern route (74).[64]

The IOM Missing Migrants Project has indicated a higher total – of 1,885 people dead and missing at sea – although with similar trends for location of casualties: 1,262 in the Central region, 552 in the Western region, and 71 in the Eastern region. In total, there were 1,795 drownings and 90 deaths caused otherwise or where the cause was not known.[65]


The UNHCR recorded that 1,409 people died or were declared missing on Mediterranean migration routes in 2020 – 839 missing and 570 found dead. As in the previous year, most casualties occurred on the Central route (955), followed by the Western route (241) and the Eastern route (105).[66]

A similar number was recorded by the Missing Migrants Project – i.e. 1,449 dead or missing persons, of whom 1,000 lost their lives in the Central region, 343 in the Western region, and 106 in the Eastern region. Most incidents took place later in the year as all international travel was restricted in lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic, and 1,375 deaths were attributed to drowning.[67]


Trends in casualties in 2021 returned to those experienced in 2018, with a total of 2,078 people recorded as dead or missing by the UNHCR – 1,214 missing and 864 found dead.

Three-quarters of casualties took place in the Central Mediterranean (1,545) with 418 in Western region and 115 in the Eastern region respectively. [68] This broadly corresponded with the 2,048 people recorded as dead or missing by the Missing Migrants Project, in similar locations or estimated locations, with almost all (2,011) losing their lives in drowning incidents.[69]


Further increases took place in 2022, when 2,439 people died or were missing at sea according to UNHCR sources – 1,452 in the Central Mediterranean, 653 in the Western Mediterranean, and 343 in the Eastern Mediterranean.[70] A similar total (2,411) was recorded by the Missing Migrants Project with 2,262 drownings reported or estimated.[71]


From January 2023 to August 2023, inclusive, the UNHCR records that 2,314 people have died or been declared missing at sea on Mediterranean migration routes;[72] the IOM similarly recorded 2,324 deaths or disappearances over the same time.[73]

An attempted coup in Sudan in April 2023 was followed by further conflict which led to forced migration, including the arrival of over 280,000 refugees into Egypt.[74] Natural disasters such as the Marrakesh-Safi earthquake in Morocco and the effects of Storm Daniel in Libya in September 2023 may also lead to migration by people affected by the damage caused.


On 26 February, more than 70 people were killed in the 2023 Calabria migrant boat disaster off the southern coast of Italy.[75]


On 1 March, two people were killed when a boat carrying 30 migrants capsized off the coast of Kos, Greece.[76]

On 9 March, at least 14 people were killed and 54 rescued when their boat trying to reach Europe sank off the coast of Sfax region, Tunisia.[77]

On 12 March, at least 30 people were reported missing and 17 others were rescued after a boat that was sailing from Libya to Italy sank. All those involved in the incident were reportedly Bangladeshi migrants.[78]

On 23 March, at least 5 people were killed and 33 others reported missing after their boat, which was sailing to Europe from Tunisia, sank.[79]

On 24 March, at least 34 people were reported missing after their boat, which was travelling from Sfax to Italy, sank.[79]

On 26 March, at least 29 people were killed when their boat sank off the coast of Tunisia. 5 of them were rescued.[80][81]


On 12 April, a boat carrying migrants travelling from sub-Saharan Africa sank, resulting in the deaths of at least 25 people.[82]


On 14 June, at least 82 people were killed when a boat carrying about 750 people from Tobruk, Libya capsized off the coast of Greece. 104 people were rescued, 30 hospitalized in Kalamata, and over 500 others reported missing.[83][84][85]


On 9 July, a boat carrying migrants from Tunisia sank, killing 1 person and leaving 10 others missing. Eleven people were rescued by the Tunisian coast guard.[86]

Further resources[edit]

Rescue organisations

  • Alarm Phone – hotline for refugees and other migrants in distress in the Mediterranean


  • Isle Landers – photographic book by Darrin Zammit Lupi (Maltese press photographer).




Journal articles

  • Cusumano, Eugenio. "Humanitarians at sea: Selective emulation across migrant rescue NGOs in the Mediterranean sea." Contemporary security policy 40.2 (2019): 239–262. online
  • Cusumano, Eugenio, and Kristof Gombeer. "In deep waters: The legal, humanitarian and political implications of closing Italian ports to migrant rescuers." Mediterranean Politics 25.2 (2020): 245–253. online
  • Panebianco, Stefania. "Human security at the Mediterranean borders: humanitarian discourse in the EU periphery." International Politics (2021): 1–21.

See also[edit]


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