'We cannot let Mediterranean become a cemetery': At least 39 dead as two more migrant boats sink

Echoes of last week’s Lampedusa disaster off Italian and Egyptian coasts

At least 39 people died tonight and more were feared to have drowned after two boats packed with migrants being smuggled across the Mediterranean into Europe sank.

One of the boats capsized off Lampedusa, the Italian island where 339 people drowned last week in one of the worst migrant shipping disasters in the Mediterranean, which prompted demands in Europe for action against the traffickers.

In today’s disasters, at least 248 people were pitched into the water when their boat got into trouble off Lampedusa, while more than 120 swam for their lives when a vessel capsized close to the port of Alexandria in Egypt.

A dozen people died off the Egyptian coast, with 116 people being rescued and taken to a nearby naval base. The coastguard said the survivors comprised 72 Palestinians, 40 Syrians and four Egyptians.

But the scale of tonight’s sinking off Lampedusa, in a chilling echo of last week’s disaster, was even worse, with early reports suggesting a death toll of 50. The Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said at least 27 bodies had already been recovered, of whom three were children.

"We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a cemetery," Muscat told a news conference in Valletta, the Maltese capital.

The vessel was 65 miles south-east of the island when a rescue mission was launched after a distress call was made from the boat on a satellite phone. The satellite co-ordinates pinpointed its position.

A Maltese aircraft spotted the upturned boat and reported that scores of people were in the water. The plane’s crew dropped a life raft, and a patrol boat soon reached the area to start picking up survivors.

In the joint Maltese-Italian rescue operation at least 221 people were picked up alive from the water with survivors being flown by helicoper for treatment in Lampedusa. Commander Marco Maccaroni of the Italian navy said 150 survivors were taken on board a Maltese ship, 56 on an Italian patrol boat and 15 more by a fishing boat. It was unclear if the injured were included in the totals.

The capsizing occurred a week after a migrant vessel from Libya caught fire and sank with some 500 people on board near Lampedusa. Only 155 survived. Recovery efforts continued yesterday, bringing the toll up to 339, including a newborn with its umbilical cord still attached.

In recent months, increasing numbers of Syrian migrants have been fleeing Egypt – in large part due to the rising levels of discrimination and xenophobia which followed the popular coup against former President Mohamed Morsi.

A six-day voyage to Sicily from north Africa can cost more than £2,000 per person, with many forced to sell their belongings to secure a spot.

According to the UN’s refugee agency, more than 3,400 refugees have attempted to make the crossing from Egypt to Europe since August this year. Once in Italy, the migrants are screened and often sent back home if they don’t qualify for asylum.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, many of the arrivals were considered “economic migrants”. But many of the latest arrivals are fleeing persecution and conflict in places such as Syria and Egypt, and qualify for refugee status, UN officials say.

Many eventually end up in northern Europe’s larger and more organised immigrant communities.

During a visit to Lampedusa this week, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso promised Italy some €30m in EU funds to better care for newly arrived migrants, and Italian officials pledged to put the issue on the agenda of an upcoming European Union summit and on the EU agenda next year.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
news
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
Brendan Rodgers looks on from the touchline
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick