RESCUE MISSION: Around 28 survivors have been rescued and a major search and rescue mission in underway after a boat carrying up to 700 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean sea
HUNDREDS OF people are feared dead after a boat, transporting migrants from Africa, capsized in the Mediterranean Sea.
Around 28 survivors have been rescued and a major search and rescue mission in underway.
Passengers reportedly became frenzied at the sight of Italian coast guards and scrambled for the attention of the rescuers. In the panic, the fishing boat is believed to have became unsteady and ultimately tipped over.
The accident happened Saturday night (April 18) as the boat went down about 60 miles (96km) off the Libyan coast and 120 miles (193km) south of the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Italian naval and coastguard ships, the Maltese Navy and cargo vessels, along with three helicopters, are involved in the rescue operation, 130 miles (210km) off the coast of Lampedusa and 17 miles from the Libyan coast.
According to the BBC, a spokesman for the Italian coastguard said that the operation was still focused on search and rescue, "but in time it will be a search [for bodies] only".
Though two dozen bodies have been retrieved, survivors’ accounts suggest that there were more than 700 passengers on board at the time.
The incident follows just days after a similar accident occurred in which some 400 migrants feared drowned after their vessel capsizes off Libya.
Italy's PM said it was a European tragedy and called for a critical EU summit on the migrants issue.
Matteo Renzi said he could not verify the number of deaths, but that it would be a "dramatic amount".
Urging the EU summit, Renzi said: "It is unthinkable that in the face of such a tragedy, there isn't the feeling of solidarity which Europe has shown in other instances."
He added: "We ask not to be left alone, not so much when it comes to emergencies at sea, but to stop the trafficking of human beings."
He said the trafficking was "a plague in our continent - the slavery of the 21st Century".
According to reports by the BBC, Renzi cited the fact that 91 per cent of the migrants coming to Italy had left from Libya, Renzi warned that more rescue ships was not the answer and instead insisted, "the boats must be stopped from departing".
The latest deaths, if confirmed, would mark one of the largest losses of migrants’ lives, bringing the number of people who have died attempting the passage this year to an estimated 1,600.
During his weekly Sunday address, Pope Francis appealed to the international community to react decisively so that such a tragedy isn’t repeated.
“They are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war,” he said.