June 20 (UPI) -- About 126 migrants drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea after the motor of their boat was stolen by smugglers, survivors said.
The four survivors told the International Organization for Migration, a U.N. agency, that their dinghy left Libya for Italy on Thursday. After several hours at sea, smugglers approached the craft, stole the engine, then departed. The dinghy drifted and then capsized.
Libyan fishermen found the survivors and took them to another dinghy that was rescued by European patrol boats. They were then taken to Palermo, Italy, IOM spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo said.
The survivors -- two Nigerians and two Sudanese nationals -- said the majority of those who drowned were Sudanese.
"Leaving a dinghy out at sea without an engine is tantamount to murder. We believe the motor was stolen either by smugglers who launched the dinghy in the first place, or by a rival group. In the last six months we've seen an increase in the number of dinghies having their engines stolen. They are valuable to the smugglers," Di Giacomo told the newspaper The Telegraph.
The IOM's Missing Persons Project said the number of deaths of migrants on the Mediterranean Sea in 2017 is approaching 2,000. Nearly 70,000 have been rescued and taken to Italy since the start of the year, a 23 percent increase compared to the same time last year.