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30 Migrants Missing, 17 Rescued After Boat Capsizes in Mediterranean

An Italian Coast Guard officer stands on a beach near Cutro, southern Italy, Feb. 28, 2023.
An Italian Coast Guard officer stands on a beach near Cutro, southern Italy, Feb. 28, 2023.

Thirty people are missing and 17 were rescued Sunday in the central Mediterranean after the boat they were fleeing Libya in capsized during 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 additional merchant vessels were en route to the area, the coast guard said in a statement.

Earlier Sunday, the Mediterranea Saving Humans charity had tweeted that according to several sources, the vessel, traveling in the direction of Italy, had capsized about 177 kilometers 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 Saturday, emphasizing 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 Sunday morning, it said.

The coast guard added that two of the rescued people needed 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 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 coastguard 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 in October promising to cut the flow only to see a sharp increase in such landings this year from both North Africa and Turkey.

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.

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