ROME – Italy’s coast guard said 200 people were rescued on Monday after a boat packed with migrants sank in the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy, with Italian media reporting that several people also died.
The coast guard said the rescue was being carried out by two commercial ships that were scrambled to the area, some 100 nautical miles (185 km, 115 miles) south of Lampedusa island, Italy’s southernmost point.
“Two-hundred people have been rescued,” a coast guard spokesman said. He said he could not confirm or deny Italian media reports of 400 people on board.
A spokeswoman for the navy, which is involved in a large operation to rescue migrants and deter traffickers, said: “There are probably victims.”
The navy said it had dispatched a helicopter and two warships “at maximum speed” to give assistance.
The Italian news agency ANSA said “several bodies” had been recovered and other media quoted coast guards on Lampedusa saying at least seven people had died. The coast guard and navy could not confirm the reports.
The La Repubblica daily said the boat sank around 50 nautical miles north of the Libyan coast. The report said Italy’s coast guard was alerted to the incident by the crew of a ship involved in offshore oil extraction in the area.
A Libyan navy spokesman, Col. Ayub Kassem, said Libya “does not have the means to help with this shipwreck, which took place in international waters.”
Kassem said he could not confirm that the migrant boat had departed from Libya.
In another migrant boat shipwreck on Tuesday that was reported by the Libyan navy on Sunday, 36 migrants died and 42 were missing. A naval spokesman said that 52 people were rescued.
More than 400 migrants drowned in twin tragedies off Lampedusa last year and immigration charities estimate that up to 20,000 migrants have died at sea trying to reach Europe over the past 20 years.
In the wake of the tragedy, the Italian navy launched “Mare Nostrum” — a Latin reference to the Mediterranean — a large-scale operation that anti-immigration politicians in Rome have accused of assisting irregular migration in Europe.
Hundreds of migrants have been landing in Italy on an almost daily basis in recent weeks, many of them now being picked up on Italian warships.
Most of the immigrants come from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria and arrive on rickety fishing boats from Libya.
Libya’s interim interior minister said on Saturday that Tripoli could “facilitate” those people seeking to get to Europe illegally unless the European Union helped it combat the problem.
“I’m warning the world and Europe in particular — if they do not assume their responsibilities, Libya could facilitate the transit of this flood” of immigrants toward Europe, Salah Mazek told a news conference.
He said Libya was “suffering” because thousands of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were spreading disease, crime and drugs in the North African nation.
“Libya has paid the price. Now it’s Europe’s turn to pay,” Mazek added.