There are reports coming in from various UN sources that a boat carrying up to 600 people fleeing the violence in Libya was torn to pieces off the Libyan coast on Friday.  The UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration are both relaying accounts from refugees on a separate boat who witnessed the disaster.

After watching the ship go down other refugees did not want to board a second ship, but Libyan authorities forced them on the boat.  I just received this note from the International Organization for Migration.

Migrants also told IOM that after seeing what had happened to the first boat, many of them who had been waiting on land changed their mind about making the sea journey to Italy.  However, they claim that Libyan soldiers and officials forced them onto a waiting boat by firing their guns indirectly.

Although this is the first time that IOM has been told of migrants being forced by Libyan officials to get on a boat, many have told IOM that they did not have to pay for their passage to Lampedusa while others say they have paid a nominal fee.  However, they say that they been stripped by officials and soldiers of their savings and possessions, including mobile phones.

This is clearly a huge tragedy. But there is a steady stream of stories coming out today that suggest the that Italy-bound refugees from Libya are dying en masse at sea.  According to UNHCR over 9,000 refugees have made the voyage from Libya to Italy or Malta.

Apparently, a not insignificant number have died along the way.The Guardian reports a harrowing account of a 61 people perishing on a boat while aircraft and ships from NATO member states ignored distress calls.   And then there is this from the IOM:

One Somali woman told IOM staff on Lampedusa that she and her four-month-old baby had been on the boat that sank sometime between Thursday and Friday last week.  Having lost her baby, the woman swam to shore after which she boarded another boat heading to Italy.

“She was in a state of shock when she arrived on Lampedusa.  She was clearly very disorientated and agitated when we spoke to her,” said IOM’s Daria Storia.

Although the migrants also spoke of seeing people swimming to shore, it is not clear how many migrants survived apart from the Somali woman.

And then there is this dramatic footage of a sea rescue of an Italy-bound boat from Libya.

The purpose of NATO intervention in Libya is civilian protection. It would seem that a lot of lives could be saved if NATO and European member states do a better job patrolling the sea for rickety boats full of refugees.