ROME (Reuters): Thirty people are missing and 17 were rescued in the central Mediterranean on Sunday after the boat in which they were traveling from Libya capsized in bad weather, Italy’s coast guard said.
Rescue operations were ongoing, supported by merchant ships and aerial support by the EU’s border agency Frontex, while two further merchant vessels were en route to the area, the coast guard said in a statement.
Earlier on Sunday, the Mediterranea Saving Humans charity had tweeted that according to several sources, the vessel, traveling in the direction of Italy, had capsized about 110 miles north-west of Benghazi.
Alarm Phone, another charity which picks up calls from migrant vessels in distress, said on Twitter it had first alerted authorities on Saturday, emphasising the boat, which was carrying 47 people, needed immediate rescue.
After an initial rescue attempt by a merchant ship failed due to bad weather, Libyan authorities asked Rome for help given that they lacked the means to carry out the rescue, the coast guard said in the statement.
Rome then requested merchant ships in the area to join the rescue efforts. However, the migrant vessel turned over during an attempt to transfer the people on to the “FROLAND” merchant ship on Sunday morning, it said.
The coast guard added that two of the rescued people were in need of medical assistance and would be disembarked in Malta before the merchant vessel could resume its trip to Italy.
ARRIVALS ON THE RISE
Italy’s coast guard said on Sunday that the capsize occurred outside Italy’s Search and Rescue area (SAR).
However, Rome’s ability to rescue migrants at sea has come under scrutiny following a Feb. 26 shipwreck near the southern region of Calabria, in which at least 79 died.
On Saturday the coast guard said that more than 1,300 migrants had been rescued in three separate operations off the southern tip of Italy, with a further 200 saved off Sicily.
The numbers of migrant arrivals in Italy have been on the rise, piling pressure on the country’s conservative government, which took office last October promising to cut the flow only to see a sharp increase in such landings this year from both North Africa and Turkiye.
Some 17,600 people had reached Italy this year as of March 10, compared to 6,000 in the same period of 2022. Hundreds have also died trying to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe.