Dozens killed in new migrant shipwreck south of Sicily

Reuters
Migrant boat sinks off Sicily
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Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) sailors watch the body of a drowned migrant being lowered from their ship after arriving at the AFM Maritime Squadron base at Haywharf in Valletta's Marsamxett Harbour October 12, 2013. Italian and Maltese naval vessels have recovered 34 bodies and rescued 206 people from a migrant boat which capsized on Friday while a rescue ship was dispatched to help another boat in distress, the Italian Navy said on Saturday. (REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi)

By Wladimir Pantaleone

PALERMO, Sicily (Reuters) - Dozens of people including women and children died on Friday when a boat carrying around 250 migrants capsized and spilled them into the sea between Sicily and Tunisia, the second such tragedy in a little over a week, the Italian coastguard said.

The Italian news agency ANSA reported that around 50 corpses had so far been sighted, including around 10 children, following the accident about 60 miles south of the island of Lampedusa.

At least 339 people drowned on October 3 when a boat carrying Eritrean and Somali migrants sank near the tiny southern Italian island of Lampedusa, southwest of Sicily.

The Maltese navy said one of its ships had rescued 150 migrants and that an Italian navy vessel had saved 56. The most seriously injured were being taken by helicopter to Lampedusa.

Maltese authorities were coordinating the rescue operation, which was in international waters but in a Maltese rescue zone, and a Maltese ship was on the scene, a spokesman for the island state's navy said.

The boat was seen to be in difficulty by a Maltese military plane at around 1400 GMT, which dropped a life raft, the Maltese navy said in a statement.

Last week's disaster was one of the worst in a protracted migrant crisis in which tens of thousands of people have arrived in flimsy, overcrowded boats in southern Italy, and some vessels wrecked. Lampedusa, located midway between Sicily and Tunisia in North Africa, has borne the brunt.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 32,000 have arrived in southern Italy and Malta this year alone, around two thirds of whom have filed requests for asylum.

Earlier on Friday at least 500 more migrants in at least three separate boats arrived or were rescued on the way to different areas of Sicily.

Most migrants come from sub-Saharan Africa, but this year many are fleeing the civil war in Syria or political turmoil in Egypt and other parts of North Africa. Many are drawn by hopes of finding work in Europe and often do not stay in Italy. (Additional reporting by Antonella Cinelli, Chris Scicluna and Philip Pullella; writing by Gavin Jones; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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