Italy coast guard says at least 20 dead in migrant capsizing

The migrants were on a wooden boat carrying between 500 and 700 people and were just 20 nautical miles off the Libyan coast when the accident happened.

The bodies of at least 34 migrants, many of them young children, were recovered from the sea off Libya after some 200 migrants tumbled into rough waters when their overcrowded smugglers' boat capsized today, the Italian coast guard said.

Reports say there are now operations under way to rescue people from some 15 vessels off Libya, reportedly carrying 1,700 people. "About 200 people fell into the water", a coastguard spokesman said.

The boat suddenly tipped to one side as a rescue vessel approached, the Italian Coast Guard told Reuters.

MOAS tweeted photos showing survivors in orange life vests bobbing in Mediterranean waters as they awaited rescue.

"Not a scene from a horror movie".

"Current body count at 31", Catrambone said, adding many who fell overboard had been "small toddlers".

The coast guard called in more ships to help with the rescue, saying about 1,700 people were packed into about 15 vessels in the area.

Despite efforts by Italy and the European Union to bolster the Tripoli-based coast guard and funnel training and equipment to fight trafficking to the United Nations -backed government, record numbers of migrants are coming this year.

Among the migrants was a group of 12 Libyans - including five women and three children - who were trying to flee the conflict-hit country.

It is a busy stretch of sea where humanitarian vessels, the Libyan Coast Guard and even scavengers hoping to recover abandoned migrant boats and their engines all operate. The Libyans then towed two migrant boats back to shore while humanitarian groups brought more than 1,000 on board.

"Perhaps as many as a dozen children" were killed, rescuers said. "We had to be careful not to get a bullet ourselves", Jugend Rettet said in a statement citing the Iuventa's 25-year old captain Jonas, without giving his surname.

This year is set to see a large increase in traffic on the risky sea crossing, with 50,000 migrants so far rescued - and more than 1,300 dead.

  • Leroy Wright