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Italian coast guard searches for dozens of migrants feared drowned

FILE - An Italian Coast Guard vessel carrying migrants rescued at sea passes between tourist boats, on Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Italy, Sept. 18, 2023.
FILE - An Italian Coast Guard vessel carrying migrants rescued at sea passes between tourist boats, on Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Italy, Sept. 18, 2023.

The Italian coast guard is searching for dozens of missing migrants after rescuers rushed to aid two sinking ships from which 11 people are confirmed dead.

The search and rescue operations began late Sunday after a distress call from a French sailboat carrying more than 70 migrants about 190 kilometers off the Italian coast. The boat is believed to have departed from Turkey.

Rescuers recovered 12 survivors from the half-sunken boat. They were taken to the Calabrian port in southern Italy for medical treatment.

One of the 12 later died, while another 60 passengers are missing and possibly lost at sea.

Doctors without Borders (MSF) provided psychological assistance to all survivors, stating they "supported first aid activities for 12 people, including a woman who died shortly after disembarkation due to her severe medical condition." Details of her condition were not provided to the media.

Farther south, rescuers found 10 people dead below the deck of a wooden boat off the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The crew of the Nadir, a vessel operated by the German aid group Resqship, managed to save 51 people.

"A total of 61 people were on the wooden boat, which was full of water. Our crew evacuated 51 people, including two who were unconscious and had to be cut free with an axe," the group reported.

"The 10 dead are in the flooded lower deck of the boat." Survivors were from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, and Syria.

According to the U.N.'s International Organization for Migration, over 3,150 migrants died or disappeared in the Mediterranean last year.

The Central Mediterranean is the deadliest migration route, accounting for 80 percent of deaths and disappearances in the sea. Many migrants fleeing conflict or poverty set off from Tunisia or Libya, aiming to enter the European Union via Italy.

The EU recently toughened immigration controls. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, in office since 2022, has pledged to reduce the number of migrants crossing from North Africa.

New rules limit charity ships' rescue operations and assign them distant ports. This can have dire consequences for migrants, forcing charity crews to choose between complying with authorities and risking their ships being impounded.

Arrivals by sea to Italy have dropped significantly this year, with 23,725 people landing so far compared to 53,902 in the same period in 2023, according to the interior ministry.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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