Hundreds of people were feared dead on Tuesday after high winds and heavy seas capsized boats carrying African migrants heading for Europe off the coast of Libya.
“A tragedy has happened off the Libyan coast with at least two boats going down … with obviously hundreds of people going down at sea,” Jean-Philippe Chauzy with the International Organization for Migration in Geneva, Switzerland, said Tuesday, citing diplomatic officials in Tripoli and Libyan officials. The vessels departed Sunday and were heading to southern Europe, Egypt’s Middle East News Agency reported Monday. Official casualty figures were not immediately available from Libyan authorities, but Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said only 20 people had been rescued including six Egyptians. Watch as migrants are feared drowned »
Reports of the incident varied widely. Egyptian state television said that two fishing vessels carrying over 600 people sank, while the Egyptian foreign ministry said one fishing boat went down with 257 people on board. Up to three boats sank, according to Chauzy. The migrants were believed to be headed for the Italian island of Lampedusa, where 37,000 landed last year, according to Chauzy, who said many African migrants converge on Libya en route to Europe.