Second migrant boat capsizes near Italian island

Coast Guard personnel by Lampedusa island last Tuesday

A boat carrying an estimated 200 migrants has capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa where a shipwreck last week left more than 300 dead.

Italian coast guard and Maltese government officials said a search-and-rescue operation is under way.

The capsizing of the boat occurred in waters where Malta has search and rescue responsibilities.

Italian coast guard spokesman Marco Di Milla said an Italian ship was sent to help.

A Maltese armed forces aircraft spotted the wreckage initially and asked for Italy’s help.

Last week, a ship carrying some 500 people capsized off Lampedusa, killing more than 300 people.

The deaths have prompted calls for the European Union to do more to better patrol the southern Mediterranean and prevent such tragedies.

Maltese rescue crews later reported spotting bodies in the water.

Lampedusa, a tiny speck of an island closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, is the destination of choice of smugglers ferrying migrants from Libya or Tunisia to Europe.

They usually charge more than €1,000 a head and cram the migrants on to boats that routinely run into trouble and require rescue.

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.

Coast guard spokesman Mr Di Milla later said that ``a good number'' of the estimated 200 people have been rescued.

He said the coast guard received a satellite phone call from the boat and was able to locate it based on the satellite coordinates.

A Maltese armed forces statement said that since the boat was in Maltese search and rescue waters, a Maltese aircraft was sent up and reported that the boat had capsized and that “numerous” people were in the water. The aircraft dropped a life raft and a patrol boat soon arrived at the scene.

Meanwhile, Egypt's state news agency said a different boat has capsized off the coast of the city of Alexandria, killing 12 migrants and leaving 116 survivors.

It said the coast guard received a call for help from a boat carrying the migrants and naval forces went out to the rescue. The agency said the survivors were 72 Palestinians, 40 Syrians, and four Egyptians. The nationalities of those who drowned were not immediately available. Officials said rescue efforts continued.

At least 70,000 Syrians are registered in Egypt as refugees. Many non-registered, including thousands of Palestinians who also fled the war in Syria, use the country as a stop before making the perilous sea trip to Europe. Thousands of Egyptians also make the sea journey to flee poverty and high unemployment.

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