Dozens of people are feared dead after a boat carrying more than 100 migrants sank Thursday evening off the coast of the Italian island Lampedusa, according to coast guard authorities.
The first survivors were pulled from the water early Friday morning, and 56 have been rescued thus far, including 10 woman and six children. The body of one man was also recovered.
The survivors told the Italian coast guard that their boat was carrying more than 100 people, leaving dozens of passengers unaccounted for.
Survivors 'In good health'
Most of the survivors swam to Lampione, an uninhabited islet near Lampedusa. Two were picked up at sea by a German NATO vessel.
Lying south of Sicily, Lampedusa is just 130 kilometers (80 miles) east of Tunisia, making the North African coast its closest landfall.
Filippo Marini, a spokesman for the Italian coast guard, told the SkyTg24 broadcaster that the passengers all "appear to be from Tunisia."
"They are in good health although they are suffering from hypothermia," said Marini. He added that rescue efforts would continue "as long as there is hope of finding other survivors."
According to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), 283 would-be migrants are dead or missing from shipwrecks in the southern Mediterranean this year.
At least 60 people drowned Thursday when their boat sank off the Turkish coast.
According to Laura Boldrini, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR, migrant arrivals to Italy from North Africa had fallen to around 7,000 in 2012. It is a significant decrease from last year, when 50,000 people made the trip, boosted by the Arab Spring uprisings.
dr/slk (dpa, AFP, Reuters)