At least 34 migrants drowned on Wednesday after their overloaded vessel capsized in the Mediterranean, the Italian coast guard and a humanitarian worker said.
The migrants were on a wooden boat carrying between 500 and 700 people and were just 20 nautical miles off the Libyan coast when the accident happened. At a certain point, either a wave hit or the migrants shifted to one side and about 200 of them ended up in the water.
“About 200 people fell into the water when one of the boats listed dangerously,” Coast Guard Commander Cosimo Nicastro told Reuters. “At least 20 dead bodies were spotted in the water.” Rescue group MOAS said it had already recovered 34 bodies.
Co-founder of humanitarian rescue group MOAS, Chris Catrambone, said on Twitter that many corpses had been brought on board their ship, and that toddlers were among the dead seen in the water.
“It’s not a scene from a horror movie, it’s a real-life tragedy that is taking place today at the gates of Europe,” Catrambone said.
With the help of an Italian coast guard ship and several commercial ships, rescuers raced to drag as many people as possible from the water, while a helicopter and military aircraft dropped lifeboats.
“There are still about 30 corpses floating in the area, many are young children,” Catrambone added.
The Coast Guard is calling in more ships to help with rescues, Nicastro said. Apart from the MOAS vessel, a tugboat was assisting in rescues coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard in Rome.
More than 1,300 people have died this year on the world’s most dangerous crossing for migrants fleeing poverty and war across Africa and the Middle East.
In the past week, more than 7,000 migrants have been plucked from unsafe boats in international waters off the western coast of Libya.