At least 17 people have died after a migrant boat sank south of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, while hundreds more are still missing, the Italian Navy has confirmed.
Reports detailing the number of people involved have been conflicting, but authorities believe the vessel, which had more than 200 people on board when it was rescued, was probably carrying significantly more, and that most of the bodies were already lost at sea.
At around 1pm on Monday, an SOS request was received by the Italian Coast Guard from a boat 100 miles from Lampedusa. Two Italian navy vessels, the Sirio and the Grecale and a helicopter responded to the distress call, arriving about an hour later along with two Coast Guard cutters to provide medical aid, but for many of the migrants it was already too late.
The Grecale is heading to the port of Catania in Sicily with 206 survivors and the 17 victims. It was due to arrive this afternoon, the Italy navy stated on Twitter.
An navy spokesperson said it remained unclear how many people had originally been on board. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica has put the figure at about 400.
Italian politicians accused the European Union of failing to provide enough support in rescuing and hosting the migrants, and of underestimating the scale of the problem.
“Europe can’t work just to save countries and banks and then abandon women and children to death,” Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said.
Interior minister Angelino Alfano said: “The Mediterranean Sea is not an Italian border, but a European Border”.