More than 30 people have drowned after about 200 people fell from an overcrowded migrant boat off the coast of Libya, the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea.
The vessel was carrying between 500 and 700 people when the accident happened 20 nautical miles off the Libyan coast. It was not clear whether those in the water were knocked off balance by a wave or because there was a rush to one side of the boat as a rescue vessel approached.
The crew of the Phoenix aid boat, chartered by the Maltese NGO Moas, began a rescue operation and were distributing lifejackets. The number of deaths remains unclear.
The Italian coastguard, which was coordinating rescues, dispatched other vessels to the area to look for survivors.
“It’s not a scene from a horror movie, it’s a real-life tragedy that is taking place today at the gates of Europe,” Chris Catrambone, who works with Moas, told AFP. Catrambone, who gave updates on the rescue operation on his Twitter feed, said 31 bodies had been recovered.
The incident was one of 15 rescue operations over the past 24 hours, which have saved up to 1,700 people. There is usually a spike in the spring and summer months in people attempting the perilous crossing to Europe, because of warm weather and calm seas. In the year up to 17 May, 45,754 people departing from the Libyan coast had been rescued at sea and taken to Italy, and more than 8,500 of them had arrived in the last two weeks. The figures represent a big increase on the same period last year.