At least eight migrants have drowned after their boat overturned off the coast of Libya, one of several such tragedies in the Mediterranean this weekend. The death toll is expected to rise considerably.
Four people were rescued after the boat capsized about 30 miles (50 km) from Libya, an Italian coastguard spokesman said.
The boat was carrying around 110 migrants when it capsized, Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said.
"The bodies of eight people have been recovered. Four people have been saved, and they say 107 migrants were onboard the boat in all," Di Giacomo added.
A French warship, patrolling under the EU's Frontex border operation, picked up the survivors, and an Italian naval and merchant vessel as well as a plane and a helicopter were later involved in rescue operations, Di Giacomo went on.
Search operations are reportedly continuing after nightfall in poor weather and sea conditions.
Coastguard and naval ships - as well as privately owned fishing and merchant vessels - had saved around 750 migrants from rubber and wooden boats in the central Mediterranean over the previous 24 hours, the coastguard said, though it did not offer details about the nationalities of those rescued.
In one incident, the bodies of six migrants were found washed up on beaches near Algeciras, the port on the southern tip of Spain near Gibraltar, the Spanish sea rescue service said on Saturday. The six were all men from sub-Saharan Africa.
In other rescue operations, three bodies of three migrants were recovered in rafts off the Italian island of Lampedusa. Among the survivors were three people, including a pregnant woman, who were flown to hospital suffering from hypothermia.
A deadly crossing
Last year, a record 181,000 boat migrants, mostly from Africa, reached Italy, according to government figures. In recent years Italy has been on the front line of migrants arriving across the Mediterranean and has been pushing for agreements with governments in North Africa to facilitate returns.
The majority paid Libyan people traffickers to make the journey.
Almost 5,000 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2016, the highest number on record, according to the IOM.
Some 13 people died in the first 10 days of 2017 attempting to cross the Mediterranean, with 1,159 migrants reaching the coasts, the agency reported.
jbh/kl (Reuters, AFP, dpa)