At least two hundreds migrants are dead after the motorboats they were travelling on sank in the Mediterranean Sea, the UN’s refugee agency says.
“Nine were saved after four days at sea. The other 203 were swallowed by the waves,” UNHCR’s spokeswoman in Italy, Carlotta Sami, said on Twitter.
She called the situation a “horrible and enormous tragedy”.
On February 9, at least 29 migrants died after the inflatable boat carrying them overturned in high seas.
Seven were already dead when they were picked up near the Italian island of Lampedusa, and a further 22 succumbed to hypothermia after spending more than 18 hours on the open deck of the vessel which picked them up.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says the two boats involved in the latest tragedy to befall migrants bound for Europe crossing the Mediterranean Sea had departed from the Libyan coast on February 7.
The IOM says that each boat was carrying more than 100 people when they capsized, probably on February 9.
The nine survivors all speak French, and are believed to be from West Africa.
The Italian government launched a search and rescue mission called Mare Nostrum to patrol the waters off the Libyan coast for ships carrying migrants that may have run into trouble in response to a previous tragedy off the coast of Lampedusa.
The mission was launched after a fishing boat capsized off the island in October 2013, killing 366 people, but was disbanded a year later.
Italian and Greek coast guards saved more than 300 migrants from rough waters in two separate incidents.
The Italian navy said it picked up 233 people, mostly from African countries, who had been stuck in an “overcrowded” vessel south of Sicily.
Meanwhile Greek coast guards rescued 85 migrants off the island of Astypalaia.
Every year thousands of African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty risk their lives trying to reach the Europe.
Greece and Italy are both main entry points for those who attempt to make the dangerous sea crossing.
In October more than 400 people drowned in two shipwrecks near the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Many of them were from Eritrea and Somalia, but the civil war in Syria has also resulted in an increased flow of migrants trying to reach Europe.
Italian and Greek coast guards saved more than 300 migrants from rough waters in two separate incidents
Italian officials said on Thursday that the migrants were rescued from a 33ft-long boat about 80 miles from Lampedusa.
“Considering the rough seas, the overcrowded boat and the precarious conditions, a situation of emergency was declared,” the Italian navy said in a statement.
It added that the migrants were in good health and had been ferried to Sicily.
They are reported to have come from Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Zambia, Mali and Pakistan.
Greek authorities said they picked up migrants near Astypalaia after receiving a distress signal from the vessel’s captain because of bad weather.
Women and children were among those rescued.
In the past, human rights organizations, including the UN refugee agency UNHCR, have strongly criticized Italy and Greece countries for “push-backs” – a policy of sending migrants back to their point of departure.
In the aftermath of the Lampedusa shipwrecks, the Italian government launched an operation called “Mare Nostrum”, mobilizing warships and aircraft to prevent further tragedies.
Italy has also called for help from other EU states to deal with the migrant influx.
The European Commission has asked for more resources for joint sea patrols, and more co-ordination with countries that migrants embark from, such as Libya.
A state of emergency has been declared in Sicily because of the large numbers of African migrants it has to deal with.
According to the Italian navy, almost 300 migrants have been rescued from two boats near the island of Lampedusa in the waters between Libya and Sicily.
The first, about 60 miles to the south of Lampedusa, was carrying 80 migrants, a navy statement said.
The second, said to be at danger of sinking was carrying 210 people.
It was 45 miles from the island.
A state of emergency has been declared in Sicily because of the large numbers of African migrants it has to deal with
The latest rescues come a day after Italy announced increased patrols following the deaths of hundreds of migrants sailing in overcrowded boats.
The migrants were all being transferred to Lampedusa, the navy said.
On Friday, at least 33 people died when their boat capsized between Malta and Lampedusa.
A week earlier, more than 350 migrants died in another shipwreck off the island, one of the deadliest such incidents in recent years.
Italy has previously called for EU help in dealing with the thousands of desperate migrants who wash up on its beaches every year.
Many are families fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East who hope for a better life in Europe.
The recent loss of life has led to further calls for EU action.
On Monday, Italian Defense Minister Mario Mauro said the country intended to triple its presence in the southern Mediterranean.
“We need strong action to stop these shipwrecks,” he told Italian newspaper Avvenire.
In addition to coastguard and border police vessels, the Italian navy currently has three ships supported by four helicopters patrolling the area. It can also call on two surveillance aircraft with night-vision capabilities.
According to the UN, some 32,000 migrants have arrived in Malta and Italy this year.
Italy has decided to hold a state funeral for the hundreds of migrants who died after their boat capsized close to the island of Lampedusa last Thursday.
PM Enrico Letta made the announcement during a visit to the island with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Jose Manuel Barroso pledged 30 million euros ($40 million) of EU funds to help refugees in Italy.
At least 274 people, mostly from Eritrea and Somalia, died in the wreck.
Of more than 500 people on board, only 155 have survived. Divers are recovering bodies.
It is one of Italy’s worst disasters involving a boat carrying Europe-bound migrants from Africa.
Lampedusa is a key destination for such boats and many residents have long complained that the authorities in Italy and the European Union are not doing enough to deal with the thousands of migrants who come ashore each year.
Jose Manuel Barroso and Enrico Letta visited the temporary mortuary holding the coffins of the victims and met survivors and those who had helped in the rescue.
The two men were heckled on their arrival in Lampedusa, with shouts of “disgrace” and “killers”.
Italy will hold a state funeral for the migrants who died after their boat capsized close to the island of Lampedusa
Speaking at a joint news conference, Jose Manuel Barroso said he would never forget the sight of hundreds of coffins.
“It’s something, I think, one cannot forget: coffins of babies, coffins of a mother and a child that was born at that moment,” he said.
“This is something that profoundly shocked me.”
Jose Manuel Barroso said he also met survivors who had retained hope, and it was now the duty of the EU “to give reason for that hope”.
He said 30 million euros would help Italy to settle its refugees, and listed a range of measures the EU must undertake including focusing their efforts on the people smugglers and the countries where most of the migrants are coming from.
Jose Manuel Barroso also said the EU parliament would be voting on a plan to launch Mediterranean-wide search and rescue patrols to intercept migrant boats.
The European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstroem, said on Tuesday she had asked the EU’s Frontex border agency to draw up a “concrete proposal” for an operation that would allow better tracking, identification and rescue of migrant boats.
Frontex currently helps Italy to intercept migrant boats, but the two EU operations in the southern Mediterranean have limited resources – a total of four ships, two helicopters and two planes.
PM Enrico Letta said a great human drama was unfolding on Lampedusa and pledged to put the issue of migration at the centre of the EU agenda.
The two were met upon their arrival in Lampedusa by a small group of activists and local residents who shouted “shame”, “disgrace” and “killers” at the airport gates.
“They should be ashamed of themselves. They should solve this humanitarian problem,” one protester was quoted by Agence France-Presse news agency as saying.
The 66ft boat that sank last Thursday with more than 500 migrants on board had set off from Libya and was close to Lampedusa when, according to survivors, the engine failed.
In order to attract attention from passing boats, a small fire was lit which caused the passengers to panic and move towards one side of the boat which led to the capsizing, the survivors said.
Divers said they found dozens of bodies entwined together in the hull of the boat which lies about 155ft below the surface of the sea.
Dozens more bodies have been recovered from the boat carrying African migrants that capsized close to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Thursday.
Thirty-eight bodies were freed from the hull, which divers had previously been unable to access. The official death toll now stands at 232.
Italian divers “unpacked a wall of people”, a navy officer said, adding that corpses were “so entwined one with the other” they were difficult to pull out.
There were 155 survivors of the accident, which happened about 1km (half a mile) offshore.
The operation to recover bodies from the hull was abandoned for the night, but will resume on Tuesday.
Tens of thousands of migrants attempt the perilous crossing from North Africa to Sicily and other Italian islands each year, and accidents are common – but last week’s shipwreck was among the deadliest on record.
Dozens more bodies have been recovered from the boat carrying African migrants that capsized close to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa
The wreck is lying about 155ft below the surface, which means the recovery divers can only stay on the bottom for a short time.
All the bodies around the ship and on deck have been brought to the surface, police say, however dozens more are thought to remain inside the vessel.
“I’m sure that the most difficult part of the operation is starting now. Technically it will be much more challenging,” Coast Guard diver Rocco Pilon told Reuters news agency.
Navy Captain Paolo Trucco said that debris had to be removed from the passageways leading to the hull.
“Mattresses, blankets, stairs. Anything that would float. Imagine if you put a house in a centrifuge and you see what winds up in the air. That is what happened,” Paolo Trucco told the Associated Press.
“Some [bodies] we have found with their arms outstretched. We try not to notice this kind of thing too much, otherwise the task is too difficult,” said police diver Riccardo Nobile.
“We can see a woman’s hair floating out of a broken porthole. But we haven’t been able to get to her.”
The 66ft boat was carrying more than 500 people, mostly from Eritrea and Somalia.
The survivors are to be placed under investigation for “clandestine immigration”, as provided for by a controversial immigration law pushed through by right-wing parties in 2002.
The offence carries a 5,000-euro ($6,780) fine.
Italy has said it will amend its immigration laws. The authorities have denied allegations that they were slow to mount a rescue.
France has called for an urgent EU meeting after Italy requested help to deal with the influx of migrants.
Italian coast guard has denied that it was slow to respond to the sinking of a boat carrying African migrants off the island of Lampedusa this week.
The accusations were made by a fisherman who took part in the rescue and a local newspaper.
So far, 111 bodies have been recovered, and 155 people survived, but about 200 are still unaccounted for.
High winds have prevented divers from reaching the boat, restricting rescuers to an aerial search.
France has called for an urgent meeting of EU states following the tragedy.
“European political officials must talk, and soon,” said French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault.
“It is up to them to meet to find a proper solution; compassion is not enough.”
Tens of thousands of migrants attempt the perilous crossing from North Africa to Sicily and other Italian islands each year, and accidents are common – but this week’s shipwreck was among the deadliest on record.
Italian coast guard has denied that it was slow to respond to the sinking of a boat carrying African migrants off the island of Lampedusa
The survivors are to be placed under investigation for “clandestine immigration”, as provided for by a controversial immigration law pushed through by right-wing parties in 2002.
Italy has said it will amend immigration laws and has called for European help.
Italian members of parliament have complained that some of its provisions discourage people from helping migrants in distress.
The fisherman who arrived first at the site of the accident, Vito Fiorino, has accused the coast guard of wasting time by filming footage of rescue efforts.
“They refused to take on board some people we’d already saved because they said protocol forbade it,” Vito Forino was quoted as saying by Ansa news agency.
A report in local newspaper La Sicilia said two boats belonging to Italy’s Financial Guard, which carries out a range of police and rescue duties, had remained in port.
The coast guard denied that there was any delay in its rescue effort.
“After we received the alarm by radio at 07:00 we immediately intervened without boats, arriving on at the site of the shipwreck at 07:20,” it said in a statement.
Judicial authorities said they had no evidence of delays.
The head of a fishermen’s association, Toto Martello, denied in turn reports that three fishermen drove straight past the scene of the accident.
“The fishermen save lives,” he told Ansa.
“We rebut the accusations that we didn’t help people who were dying at sea.”
Other fishermen said there were so many migrant boat wrecks near Lampedusa that they damaged their nets every time they went out.
“Only now they become aware of this situation?” said Salvatore D’Ancona.
“It’s been 20 years that this is happening.”
The fishermen laid a wreath of flowers at sea, with some 10 fishing vessels blowing their horns for the victims.
At least 130 migrants have died and many more are missing after a boat carrying them to Europe sank off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.
A total of 103 bodies have been recovered and more have been found inside the wreck, coast guards say.
The African migrants reportedly threw themselves into the sea when a fire broke out on board. More than 150 of the passengers have been rescued.
Most of those on board were from Eritrea and Somalia, said the UN.
The boat was believed to have been carrying up to 500 people at the time and some 200 of them are unaccounted for.
At least 130 migrants have died and many more are missing after a boat carrying them to Europe sank off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa
Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said the ship had come from Misrata in Libya and began taking on water when its motor stopped working.
It is thought that some of those on board set fire to a piece of material to try to attract the attention of passing ships, only to have the fire spread to the rest of the boat.
It is one of the worst such disasters to occur off the Italian coast in recent years; Italian PM Enrico Letta tweeted that it was “an immense tragedy”. The government has declared a day of national mourning on Friday.
“There is no miraculous solution to the migrant exodus issue,” said Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino.
“If there were we would have found it and put it into action.”
In a separate incident on Thursday, local media reported that around 200 migrants were escorted to the port of Syracuse on the island of Sicily, when their vessel encountered difficulties five miles off the coast.
Earlier this week, 13 migrants drowned while trying to reach Sicily.
Pope Francis has visited Italy’s tiny island of Lampedusa and condemned the “global indifference” to migrants’ plight during a Mass.
On arrival, Pope Francis threw a wreath in the sea in memory of the many people who have drowned trying to reach Europe.
A small boat carrying 166 Africans – reportedly Eritreans – arrived at Lampedusa’s port just hours before the Pope’s plane touched down.
The island is struggling to cope with thousands of illegal migrants.
Lampedusa, about 80 miles from Tunisia, is one of the nearest gateways to Europe for Africans fleeing poverty and conflict.
Tens of thousands of migrants have made the dangerous crossing in recent years, usually packed into rickety wooden boats exposed to the elements.
As Pope Francis arrived on a coast guard ship, dozens of Lampedusan fishing boats sailed in nearby.
The pontiff is on his first pastoral visit outside Rome since his election in March.
“Pope Francis, only you can save us,” read a banner on one of the boats.
Pope Francis visited migrant island of Lampedusa
“You’re one of us,” said a sign hanging from an apartment near the port.
Some residents threw flowers into the water and chanted “Viva il Papa” as his vessel docked.
Pope Francis, an Argentine Jesuit, met and spoke to a few migrants, then rode in an open-topped car – rather than the Popemobile often used by predecessors – to the site for Mass, near a “boat cemetery” where the hulks of shipwrecked migrant boats lie in the sun.
His altar was a small, painted boat.
The Pope called for a “reawakening of consciences” to counter the “indifference” shown to migrants.
“We have lost a sense of brotherly responsibility and have forgotten how to cry for migrants lost at sea,” he said.
He denounced the traffickers who exploited migrants and took great risks with their lives.
Pope Francis, whose own ancestors immigrated to Argentina from Italy, has previously stood in sympathy with impoverished illegal migrants.
Lampedusa’s native population of 6,000 is often outnumbered by thousands of migrants in improvised camps around the island.
The UN refugee agency says 8,400 migrants have landed in Italy and Malta in the first six months of the year, almost twice as many as last year, but down on 2011, when tens of thousands fled north Africa during the Arab Spring.
The migrants are normally transported to reception centres on the Italian mainland to be identified and ease the burden on Lampedusa.