Dozens feared dead as migrant boat capsizes in Mediterranean

Dozens of people are feared dead in the Mediterranean, according to two rescue charities, after a boat that migrants had been travelling in from Libya capsized in bad weather.

Alarm Phone, a charity which monitors distress calls from migrant vessels crossing to Europe, posted on Twitter on Sunday afternoon that a boat reported to be carrying 47 people had capsized 110 miles (176km) north-west of Benghazi.

"We are in shock. According to different sources, dozens of people from this boat in distress have drowned. We first alerted authorities at 2:28h CET on 11 March, emphasising the urgent distress situation," the organisation tweeted.

An image purporting to show the vessel was shared on Twitter by Sea-Watch International.

The charity had been in contact with people on the boat and said that they were panicking and screaming.

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Another charity, Mediterranea Saving Humans, said Italian authorities had been alerted to the plight of the ship and that they were instructing merchant vessels to observe the situation but not to carry out a rescue attempt.

Mediterranea's head of mission Luca Casarini told Reuters that four merchant vessels were still in the area.

The Italian coastguard said on Sunday evening that 17 people had been recovered from the scene and that 30 people were missing. Two of those rescued will be taken to Malta because they need urgent medical attention, while the rest will be taken to Italy.

The coastguard said that the migrant boat capsized while rescue attempts were taking place, but said that the incident had occurred outside of the country's search and rescue area.

This is the latest tragedy to afflict migrants attempting the hazardous crossing after a shipwreck near the southern region of Calabria saw the deaths of at least 79 people in late February.

The Italian coastguard said more than 1,300 migrants had been rescued recently in three separate operations off the southern tip of Italy, and a further 200 saved off Sicily.

Meanwhile a politician from prime minister Giorgia Meloni's party said that there were nearly 700,000 migrants in Libya waiting to set sail for Italy.

Tommaso Foti of the Brothers of Italy told television channel Tgcom24 the Italian secret services had estimated that 685,000 migrants, many in detention camps, were planning to use people smugglers to cross the sea.

Around 105,000 migrants reached Italy by sea in 2022.