Boat carrying more than 200 migrants capsizes near Italy, at least 34 dead



Immigrants board a ship bound for Porto Empedocle, Sicily on October 4, 2013 in Lampedusa, Italy. A boat reportedly capsized on October 11, 2013, leaving 200 migrants in the water.


Tullio M. Puglia

Rescue officials on Saturday said the death toll for a boat carrying migrants that capsized between Sicily and Tunisia on Friday had risen to 34, according to Britain's SKY News

The Italian navy said 206 people had been rescued, reported Reuters.

On Friday, Italy's national news agency ANSA reported spotting bodies, while a navy spokesman said, "There are at least 200 people in the sea and our helicopters are picking them up."

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's office on Friday said 147 people had been taken to safety on a Maltese patrol boat and another 56 had been rescued by Italian crews.

The ship, which allegedly encountered difficulties just before sunset, capsized after its passengers crowded to one side of the vessel while trying to get the attention of a passing aircraft.

Local media suggested the boat was carrying Somali and Eritrean nationals.

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement that she was following the operation with "sadness and anxiety."

"These new horrible events are happening while we still have the shocking images of the tragedy in Lampedusa in our minds," she added.

The tragedy comes just a week after more than 300 people drowned carrying African migrants near the Italian island of Lampedusa. Only 155 survivors were rescued of the 500 in that accident.

The previous incident prompted the European Union to call for extra resources to launch Mediterranean-wide search and rescue patrols.

On Tuesday, 400 people claiming to be Syrian and Palestinian refugees were saved off the Italian coast by a Danish and a Panamanian vessel when their boats ran into trouble.

More from GlobalPost: Lampedusa: A European tragedy