A major rescue operation is under way after a boat carrying up to 700 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, the Italian coastguard has told the BBC.
The vessel carrying “between 500 and 700 migrants” capsized at midnight local time, it said. So far 28 people have been rescued.
Italian ships, the Maltese Navy and commercial vessels are all involved in the rescue operation in Libyan waters south of Italy’s island of Lampedusa.
The Italian coastguard’s spokesman said the operation in Libyan waters, about 130 miles (210km) off the coast of Lampedusa, was likely in the next few hours to become more focused on a search for bodies.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat wrote on his Twitter feed that many people were feared dead.
Malta PM @JosephMuscat_JM reports tragedy of boat with app 650 refugees capsized in Libyan waters. So far only a few have been rescued.
— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) April 19, 2015
The Times of Malta newspaper reported that the migrants fell overboard when they rushed to draw the attention of a passing merchant ship.
Earlier this week, four hundred people are feared to have drowned when their vessel capsized north of Libya.