Hundreds of migrants trying to reach Europe from Libya are feared to have drowned after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean, Italy’s coastguard says.
The migrants, who were crammed into a fishing boat, sent out a distress call some 15 nautical miles off the Libyan coast.
The Medecins Sans Frontieres ship Dignity One and Irish vessel Le Niamh were sent to the scene, but the fishing boat capsized after all the migrants rushed to one side expecting to be rescued.
The Italian coastguard said it is likely to be the same vessel that contacted Nawal Soufi – an Arabic-speaking Italian who often deals with migrants in distress – claiming to have 700 people on board.
Andre Perache of Medecins Sans Frontieres told Sky News: “A rescue operation is currently under way in waters north of Libya. Seven hundred people would have been on a boat that capsized.
“It highlights the incredible dangers of this voyage that people are forced to take. It’s the most dangerous journey in the world.”
“What’s important about this is that it highlights the incredible dangers of this voyage that people are taking,” he added.
“These people are victims of violence, they are fleeing … they are running for their lives and they are risking their lives to try to find safe harbour.”
Three other vessels have now been dispatched to search of survivors, with an as yet unknown number of people being rescued.
The International Organisation for Migration says that more than 2,000 people have died so far this year trying to make the crossing from Libya to Europe. The majority who have made it across have landed in either Italy or Greece, with Italy taking some 97,000 migrants so far.
Crisis-hit Greece has had 90,500, the IOM adds.