Tunisia’s defense ministry said Monday that at least eight migrants have drowned after their boat sank following a collision with a Tunisian navy vessel in the Mediterranean Sea.
Defense Ministry Spokesman Belhassen Oueslati said eight bodies were found and 38 people rescued after the unidentified boat “collided with a military vessel” Sunday evening when it was approached some 54 kilometers off the islands of Kerkennah.
Search operations to find any more missing people were “still ongoing”, he told Agence France Presse.
Several Italian media outlets reported that the boat, which had set off from the Tunisian coastal city of Sfax, was carrying some 70 migrants.
The collision happened in a stretch of sea that is meant to be patrolled by search and rescue crews from Malta.
Two Italian coast guard vessels, a finance police boat and a navy ship have been sent to assist in a rescue mission, an Italian coast guard spokesman said. The Maltese coastguard is coordinating the rescue, he said.
A Maltese plane was en route to the scene, a Maltese army spokesman said.
There has been an uptick since the summer in the number of migrants trying to make the perilous sea crossing to Europe from Tunisia, with small vessels heading to the Italian islands of Sicily and Lampedusa.