A boat carrying hundreds of African immigrants has sunk off the coast of Italy near the island of Lampedusa on Thursday, leaving more than 90 people dead with fears that the number could rise dramatically as the search continues.
The Guardian reports from Rome:
Coastguards said the alarm had first been raised early on Thursday morning by fishing boats who reported that a vessel was in trouble in the waters near the Mediterranean island that is a frequent destination for people wanting to reach Europe from the northern African coast.
Precise numbers varied but initial reports said the boat, which is believed to have caught fire before sinking, had been carrying as many as 500 people. More than 100 had been rescued, Lampedusa's mayor, Giusi Nicolini, told SkyTg24, but many more were unaccounted for. She told the Ansa news agency that 82 people had been confirmed dead, among them children.
In a statement, the Italian transport minister, Maurizio Lupi, said 250 people were still missing after what he said was a "huge tragedy" that was "not humanly tolerable".
Agence France-Presse adds:
Lampedusa is an Italian island lying between Tunisia and Sicily and is a major entryway for asylum-seekers into the European Union, with thousands arriving every year.
"The first assistance was provided by people on pleasure boats who heard the screams," Antonino Candela, a local emergency medical worker said.
He said the migrants said they were from Somalia.
Candela said the incident happened shortly after another boat arrived safely in Lampedusa with 463 people on board, believed to be from Syria.
The accident was the latest in a series of recent drownings involving migrants near the Italian coast.
On Monday, 13 asylum-seekers drowned as they tried to swim ashore after their boat ran aground off the coast of Sicily.