At least 20 people, including young children, have died after their vessel capsized off Libya’s coast, the Italian coastguard says.
About 200 people fell off the overloaded vessel that was just 20 nautical miles (37km) in the Mediterranean Sea from Libya when the accident occurred on Wednesday.
The crew of the Phoenix aid boat, chartered by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), had begun the rescue and were distributing lifejackets when many of those on deck fell into the water, perhaps knocked off balance by a wave. “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,” said Chris Catrambone, MOAS co-founder, who was aboard the Phoenix.
With the help of an Italian coastguard 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.
The incident was one of 15 rescue operations under way on Wednesday off Libya’s Mediterranean coast.