AS many as 700 migrants from North Africa are missing and feared drowned after their boat capsized about 120 miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa in what could be the largest-ever such tragedy on the Mediterranean.
Officials engaged in a major air-and-sea rescue in the Mediterranean say that so far 28 people have been rescued along with the recovery of 24 bodies. As many as 700 are still missing after the overcrowded fishing boat capsized and sank overnight.
Although it is not uncommon for such migrant boats to come to grief in the Mediterranean, the sheer loss of life in the latest incident appears to be particularly large.
Some 20 ships from Italy and Malta, as well as several helicopters were engaged in the search.
According to reports, the migrants went overboard when they rushed to one side of the boat to alert a passing ship.
A Maltese patrol boat was helping in the rescue effort and the island’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, said: “They are literally trying to find people alive among the dead floating in the water.”
The disaster comes only a week after 400 others were reported dead in a similar capsize near Lampedusa.