Crowded migrant boat sinks off Malta; dozens perish

AFP-JIJI

Officials said dozens of migrants, including children, died Friday when their boat sank near the Italian island of Lampedusa, just over a week after a similar tragedy killed more than 300 refugees.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said at least 27 migrants were dead after the heavily loaded boat capsized in rough seas Friday around 100 km south of Lampedusa and 110 km from Malta.

Italian news agency ANSA said about 50 bodies, including women and around 10 children, had been pulled from the sea.

Around 150 survivors have already been picked up by a Maltese ship, the prime minister said.

European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstroem praised Italy and Malta for their swift response.

The commission has been urging EU states to pledge planes, ships and funds for EU border guard service Frontex, whose budget has been cut.

The migrants in Friday’s disaster alerted the authorities using a satellite phone when their boat got into difficulty in Maltese waters.

The boat capsized after those aboard attempted to catch the attention of a military aircraft flying overhead by gathering at one end of the vessel, the Maltese Navy said.

On Friday morning, Italian divers found another body from the other shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa, raising the death toll in that tragedy to 312.

Aboard that boat, which had departed from Libya, just 155 survivors were rescued out of an estimated 500 people, most of them Eritreans and Somalis.