At least 94 people have died after a boat carrying African migrants sank off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, the island’s mayor says, quoted by the BBC. More than 150 have been rescued but about 200 are missing, officials say.
Passengers reportedly threw themselves into the sea as the vessel got into trouble and Italian officials were quoted as saying that dozens of people were still in the water.
Most of those on board were from Eritrea and Somalia, said the UNHCR.
The boat was believed to have sailed from Libya, the Italian coast guard said.
It is one of the worst such disasters to occur off the Italian coast in recent years; Prime Minister Enrico Letta tweeted that it was “an immense tragedy”.
The boat was believed to have been carrying about 500 people at the time.
“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.”
Also on Thursday, local media reported that around 200 migrants were escorted to the port of Syracuse on the island of Sicily, when the vessel encountered difficulties five miles off the coast.
Footage from the scene showed bodies being laid out on Lampedusa’s dockside.
The mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini, described the scene as a “continuous horror”.
Pope Francis sent a Twitter message calling for prayers for the “victims of the tragic shipwreck off Lampedusa”. In July he visited the island and condemned the “global indifference” to the plight of migrants trying to arrive there.
In a statement UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres commended the swift action taken by the Italian coast guard to save lives.