Migrants drown at sea after boat capsizes off Libya

Migrants on a rubber dinghy wait to be rescued by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship MV Phoenix, some 32 kilometers off the coast of Libya, August 3, 2015. (Reuters)

A boat packed with up to 700 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya on Wednesday and many were feared dead, officials and aid agencies said.

The Italian Coast Guard and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said about 400 people had been rescued and 25 bodies had been recovered so far, although it was still not clear exactly how many people were on board.

UNHCR spokesman Federico Fossi said as many as 100 people may have been in the hull when the steel boat capsized as rescue
ships approached it. "Our worst fear was realized when the ship capsized before our very eyes," an Irish navy commander told  state broadcaster RTE.

The boat had run into difficulty some 15 nautical miles off Libya and sent out a distress call, picked up by the coastguard in Catania in Sicily.

Two vessels - the MSF ship Dignity One and Irish patrol vessel Le Niamh - were immediately dispatched to the scene, but the boat capsized after the migrants all rushed to one side in anticipation of being rescued, the coast guard said.

Nawal Soufi, an Arabic-speaking Italian based in Sicily who is often contacted by migrants in distress, told AFP she had had a call earlier on Wednesday about a boat in trouble with some 600 people on board.

“It is probably the same boat,” coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini said, raising fears that hundreds of people may have disappeared below the waves.

Three other ships have been sent to the area to search for survivors.

More than 2,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48
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