Migrant boat capsizes near Italy

Up to 150 north African migrants feared dead after vessel sinks off Lampedusa

Tunisian migrants
Tunisian migrants in a Lampedusa tent encampment wait to be transported to mainland Italy. Photograph: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

Up to 150 people are feared dead after a boat carrying migrants from north Africa to Italy capsized in stormy seas, according to the coastguard.

The vessel, believed to have been transporting 200 people, sank at about 4am local time (3am BST) 40 miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. A total of 48 people were rescued, and 20 bodies have been recovered, Italy's Ansa news agency reported.

Rescue boats and a police helicopter are searching the area, but efforts have been hampered by rough conditions and high winds. Coastguards say the chance of finding more survivors is diminishing, particularly as they are unlikely to have lifejackets. More than a dozen bodies have been spotted in the sea. "We fear that many people may have died," a rescue official in Lampedusa said.

The route to Lampedusa, less than 100 miles from the coast of Tunisia, has long been popular for those seeking a new life in Europe. The numbers involved have increased greatly since the collapse of the Tunisian government in mid-January. Almost 20,000 people, mostly young men from the country, have arrived on the island since the start of the year.

This week a UN official said more than 400 migrants had died after two vessels that left Libya in late March disappeared en route to Italy.

The influx of migrants into Lampedusa has seen thousands of new arrivals based temporarily in tent encampments, with many then moved elsewhere in the country on ferries chartered by the Italian government.

On Tuesday the interior minister, Roberto Maroni, signed an agreement with the Tunisian government to try to halt the flow, promising aid, police co-operation and the possible compulsory repatriation of illegal immigrants.


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