Nearly 700 migrants feared drowned in Mediterranean Sea

World Today

In this image taken from video made available by Guardia Costiera, an Italian coast Guard vessel and helicopter during ongoing search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, Sunday April 19, 2015, to locate migrants who are believed to be lost at sea. UNHCR says Sunday, the search and recovery rescue operation is under way after a boat carrying migrants is believed to have overturned north of Libya, with some 600 people still missing. (Guardia Costiera via AP)

The search for hundreds of migrants feared to have drowned when a boat they were travelling in capsized in the waters north of Libya continued on Sunday. At least 24 people were confirmed dead with more than 600 still missing, sparking fears for what could become the Mediterranean’s deadliest known migrant sea disaster.

Italy’s Coast Guard said in a statement that the migrants’ vessel may have overturned because migrants rushed to one side of the craft when they saw a Portuguese merchant vessel approach it late on Saturday night. A United Nations refugee agency official said that according to witnesses only 49 people have been rescued so far. Laurens Jolles, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Representative for Southern Europe also said that the Coast Guard were doing everything they could to try to save more lives, but stressed more help was needed to get the situation under control. The capsizing comes amid a wave of migrants trying to leave Libya for Italian shores.

They seek to take advantage of calmer seas and warm weather to make the dangerous crossing on smugglers’ boats. So far this year, more than 900 have died in failed crossings. Last week, 400 people were presumed drowned when another boat capsized.

Report compiled with information from the Associated Press.