'Migrant' boat capsizes off Sicily

BBC News - Migrant boat capsizes off Lampedusa, rescue under way

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Matthew Price: "Another example of the desperation people face"

A boat with more than 200 migrants on board has capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa and a rescue operation is under way, officials say.

Italian and Maltese ships - backed by helicopters - were scrambled to the scene and are searching in darkness.

At least 120 people are said to have been saved, but dozens of bodies have been reportedly spotted in the water.

Last week more than 300 people drowned when a boat carrying African migrants sank off Lampedusa.

Italy's coast guard and Maltese officials said the boat capsized about 120km (70 miles) off Lampedusa on Friday.

The vessel was reportedly first spotted by the Maltese air force which then requested Italy's help.

The Maltese authorities are co-ordinating the operation in the country's territorial waters.

Italy's Ansa news agency reports that about 50 people died, among them women and children, but this has not been officially confirmed.

The nationalities of those on board the boat were not immediately known.

The boat is believed to have encountered difficulties just before sunset.

Reports say people on board had crowded to one side of the vessel as they tried to get the attention of a passing aircraft, causing it to capsize.

The BBC's Matthew Price in Lampedusa says that darkness is now hampering the operation.

Lampedusa, which lies 290km (180 miles) off the coast of Africa, is a key destination for migrant vessels bound for Europe.

Last Thursday, at least 319 people - mostly Somalis and Eritreans - died when their boat sank near the island.

Only 155 people were rescued of more than 500 believed to have been on board.

Earlier on Friday at least 500 more migrants travelling in separate boats were rescued in coastguard operations in the same region.

Also Friday, a separate boat accident off the Egyptian port of Alexandria claimed the lives of at least 12 migrants.

Egyptian security officials said 116 people, mostly Palestinians and Syrians, were pulled from the water and taken to a police station.

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