Baku, April 20, AZERTAC
European officials hold an emergency meeting Monday as they struggle to confront a growing humanitarian crisis following the presumed deaths Sunday of hundreds of people aboard a smuggler's boat from the Libya coast that capsized in the Mediterranean, “usatoday.com” reports.
While the exact number aboard is uncertain, the deaths Sunday could be the Mediterranean's deadliest migrant disaster.
"How can it be that we daily are witnessing a tragedy?" said Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, who summoned his top ministers to a strategy session in Rome on Sunday evening ahead of Monday's European Union meeting in Luxumbourg, where foreign ministers added stopping he smugglers to their agenda.
"How can it be that we daily are witnessing a tragedy?" he asked.
Survivor accounts about the number of people on board varied from 700 to as many as 950, the Associated Press reported.
Only a few dozen people had been rescued. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called it the "biggest human tragedy of the last few years."
Renzi said authorities are "not in a position to confirm" a survivor's estimate that as many as 700 people were thrown into the sea when the boat capsized. By nightfall Sunday, 28 survivors and 24 bodies were pulled from the water, Renzi said.
A survivor from Bangladesh said 950 were aboard, Italian prosecutor Giovanni Salvi told AP. About 300 people were in the hold of the 66-foot fishing boat when it overturned, and about 200 women and dozens of children were also on board, the survivor said. Salvi stressed that there was no confirmation yet of the man's account.
Tens of thousands of people are fleeing war and persecution in North Africa and the Middle East for Europe — and risking drowning while crossing the Mediterranean. The growing humanitarian crisis will likely worsen this spring as the weather improves.
The latest capsizing prompted European officials and Pope Francis to call for action to stop the deadly tide of migration. Last week, 400 people were presumed drowned when another boat capsized, bringing this year's total so far of migrant deaths to more than 900, according to the United Nations.
The chaos and violence in Libya have made it an easier port for smugglers to take people across the Mediterranean.
The European Union's foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, added migration as a last-minute emergency issue to an EU foreign ministers' meeting on Monday in Luxembourg.
"Since the waters of the Mediterranean Sea are not too cold at the moment, the authorities hope to find more survivors," a statement from Millman said.
The Coast Guard said the boat was reported to be sinking as the King Jacob, a Portuguese-registered merchant ship, approached to attempt a rescue. The ship recovered 28 people before the vessel overturned.
The incident happened about 120 miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, off Libyan waters.