A ship carrying hundreds of migrants capsized just off the coast of Lampedusa on Friday. The shipwreck occurred about 60 nautical miles south of the Italian island.
A military chase plane of The Armed Forces of Malta were the first to report the incident. They released a statement stating that around 4 p.m. local time, the ship “appeared unstable.” A few minutes later, the aircraft reported that the boat had capsized and many of its passengers were in the water.
The Maltese aircraft provided immediate assistance by dropping a life raft which authorities say rescued a significant amount of people. The Italian navy responded to the report by sending helicopters and boats to the scene. They were able to rescue at least 50 of the migrants.
Together, the Italian and Maltese forces were able to save about 200 of the estimated 250 passengers. CNN reports that survivors, many from Eritrea, used bodies to help keep them afloat. Unfortunately, at least 4 bodies have been found.
Authorities are still unsure of where exactly the ship came from. Lampedusa is the closest Italian island to Africa (only 70 miles away from Tunisia). This proximity has turned Lampedusa into a hub for hundreds of thousands of African refugees who want to enter Europe. Shipwrecks similar to this one happen frequently. However, the Italian coast guard says that, in recent years, they have been able to rescue more than 30,000 refugees around the island.
The United Nation’s human rights office is attempting to persuade the European Union to take actions to prevent future incidents such as this one, According to CNN, the human rights office has called upon authorities “to work to reduce migrant trafficking and address economic and security issues that have driven thousands of African residents to make the risky voyage to Europe in search of a better life.”