Up to 700 migrants are feared dead after a 65-foot fishing vessel carrying refugees capsized in the Mediterranean Sea southwest of Italy early on Sunday (local time).
Italian and Maltese coastal authorities were alerted of the ship around midnight on Saturday, picking up a distress signal between Libya and the Italian island of Lampedusa.
The Italian coastguard ordered a nearby merchant ship, the Portuguese-registered King Jacob, to respond to the call but as the cargo vessel arrived on the scene the fishing boat capsized, according to United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Carlotta Sami.
The fishing boat is believed to have sunk after tilting heavily to one side as the people onboard rushed to call the Portuguese vessel.
“It seems we are looking at the worst massacre ever seen in the Mediterranean,” Sami said.
The Italian coastguard reported 17 rescue boats had been sent to the area, about 126 kilometres north of Libya, but only managed to pull 28 survivors from the water.
“They are literally trying to find people alive among the dead floating in the water,” Sami said.
Here’s a map of the area where the fishing boat sank:
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi has called upon European Union leaders to gather for an emergency summit by week’s end.
European Council president Donald Tusk said he had contacted the Italian PM and was planning an emergency summit on illegal immigration.
Talked to PM Muscat after tragic deaths in Mediterranean. Will continue talks w/ EU leaders, Commission & EEAS on how to alleviate situation
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) April 19, 2015
Pope Francis has called upon the international community to take immediate action to avoid future tragedies.
“They are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war. They were looking for a better life,” he said.
Since the beginning of last year, nearly 200,000 people have been rescued at sea by Italian authorities, however, since the start of 2015, around 1500 lives have been lost.
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