Immigrant boat capsizes, 250 missing

Doctors and paramedics assist a man upon his arrival in Lampedusa, southern Italy, yesterday.

Doctors and paramedics assist a man upon his arrival in Lampedusa, southern Italy, yesterday.


A boat carrying as many as 300 terrified migrants from Libya capsized in rough seas off the Italian coast early yesterday, as rescuers, hampered by strong winds, struggled to get to them.

The Italian coastguard rescued 48 people and a fishing boat picked up another three, but as many as 250 more remained unaccounted for as night fell.

Survivors told The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) that they swam in the darkness towards approaching coastguard vessels, but many others drowned because they couldn’t swim, or were dragged down by screaming fellow passengers.

The coastguard is searching for survivors in what could be one of the worst tragedies since a wave of illegal migration from North Africa to Italy began in January, officials said.

However, Pietro Carosia of the coastguard warned that the operations, conducted by Italian helicopters, patrol boats and a Maltese plane, were still being frustrated by strong winds and rough waters.

The incident occurred at about 1 a.m., about 40 miles (64.37 kilometres) off the coast of Lam-pedusa, an island closer to North Africa than mainland Italy.

Carosia said the boat had sailed from Libya and likely been at sea for around two days. He said about 200 people were believed to be on-board, although the IOM and survivors put the number of passengers at 300.

The IOM said the migrants and asylum seekers were from Bangladesh, Chad, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan. Among them there were five children and 40 women, of whom only two survived.


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