Almost 700 migrants are feared to have died in a shipwreck approximately 70 miles from the Libyan coast, according to information provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
A fishing boat with more than 700 people on board capsized in the night from Saturday and Sunday.
The small fishing boat, with a length of 20 meters, was heavily overcrowded. The vessel launched a distress call, the Italian Coast Guard announced. The Italians sent to the scene a Portuguese commercial vessel, the King Jacob, to help the boat, but when the migrants observed the ship getting closer, they went to one side, and the boat capsized. Rescue missions saved 28 people and until now 24 bodies were recovered.
The Italian Coast Guard has sent 17 ships, including Maltese and Italian fishing boats and but also other private vessels, to the capsize zone to search for other survivors.
Antonino Iraso, an officer with the Italian police, whose vessels are participating in the search-and-rescue operation, said at an Italian television that the mission is now limited to finding bodies, rather than looking for survivors. He added that the teams have observed an oil slick, but also fragments of wood and life jackets in the area..
The route from Libya to the small Italian island of Lampedusa is one of the deadliest migrant ways in the world.
If the tragedy is confirmed, it would bring to approximately 1,600 the number of migrants who have lost their lives since the start of 2015 in attempting to make the trip from Libya to Italy. Last year, almost 3,200 died attempting the passage, according to data from the International Organization for Migration. If the 700 deaths are confirmed, the disaster would become of the incident with the highest death toll among migrants in recorded history.
Last year, around 170,000 African and Middle Eastern migrants got into Italy after making this trip, with nearly 300,000 arrivals in total since the start of 2011.
Conflicts in African and the Middle East and also poverty have driven people to try the dangerous trip in ever greater numbers. The dissolving of law and order in Libya has opened the way for smugglers to work with impunity. In the last months, the situation has gone even worse, after many foreigners who had found jobs in Libya before the conflict are now trying to flee the country.
Image Source: Business Times