For the second time in a week, a boat smuggling migrants from Africa to Italy has sunk. A joint operation by Italian and Maltese rescuers has saved 221 people but at least 27 people are reported drowned.
The boat capsized some 105 kilometers (65 miles) southeast off the Italian island of Lampedusa, but in waters where Malta has search and rescue responsibilities.
Italian coast guard spokesman Marco Di Milla said on Friday they had received a satellite phone call from the boat in the afternoon, saying it was in distress. The telephone signal allowed rescuers to locate the boat via satellite.
A Maltese aircraft reported that the boat had capsized and that there were a number of people in the water. The aircraft dropped a life raft (photo above), and a patrol boat soon arrived at the scene, according to a statement from the Maltese armed forces.
Helicopters later ferried the injured to Lampedusa, which is off the coast of Tunisia. It was near the island where a migrant ship from Libya capsized on October 3 with 500 people on board. Only 155 survived on that occasion.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat reported that 27 people, three of them children, had died in Friday's sinking. He warned "the number is expected to rise, possibly drastically." Muscat said 150 survivors were rescued aboard a Maltese ship.
Commander Marco Maccaroni of the Italian navy said that an Italian patrol boat had rescued a further 56 survivors and a fishing boat had recovered 15 more.
The incident occurred as recovery operations continued off Lampedusa for victims of last week's shipwreck. The death toll had reached 339 by Friday.
The deaths have prompted calls for action from the European Union to do more to prevent such tragedies: "We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a cemetery," Muscat told a news conference in Valletta, the Maltese capital.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 32,000 people have arrived in southern Italy and Malta this year alone, around two thirds of whom have filed requests for asylum. Most migrants come from sub-Saharan Africa, but this year an increased number have arrived from Syria and Egypt.
jm/jr (Reuters, AP)