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Thirty migrants missing, 17 rescued after boat capsizes in central Mediterranean

Thirty people went missing in the central Mediterranean on Sunday after the boat they used to cross the sea from Libya capsized in rough weather, Italy’s coast guard said, adding that 17 individuals had been rescued.

Rescue operations were rolled out with the backing of merchant ships and aerial support by the EU’s border agency Frontex, the coast guard said in a statement, adding that two further merchant vessels were on their way to the area.

The Mediterranea Saving Humans charity had tweeted earlier on Sunday that according to several sources, the Italy-bound vessel had capsized about 110 miles north-west of Libya’s Benghazi.

Another charity, called Alarm Phone, specializing in picking up calls from migrant vessels in distress, tweeted it had first alerted authorities on Saturday, emphasizing the boat, which was carrying 47 people, needed rescue without delay.

An initial rescue attempt by a merchant ship turned out unsuccessful due to adverse weather conditions. Next, Libyan authorities called on Rome for help given the insufficiency of their means to carry out the rescue, the coast guard said in the statement.

Rome requested merchant ships in the area to throw in their lot with the rescue operations. The migrant vessel, however, turned over during an attempt to move the people on to the “FROLAND” merchant ship on Sunday morning, it said.

The coast guard went on to stress that two of the rescued individuals required medical assistance and would be disembarked in Malta before the merchant vessel could resume its trip to Italy.

More precarious crossings and more arrivals

The capsize took place beyond Italy’s Search and Rescue area, the country’s coast guard said on Sunday.

Rome’s rescue abilities at sea have been called out on following a February 26 shipwreck near the southern region of Calabria, in which at least 79 died.

According to the coastguard’s Saturday statement over 1,300 migrants had been rescued in three separate operations off the southern tip of Italy, with a further 200 saved off Sicily.

There has been an upward curve in the number of migrant arrivals in Italy. The increased influx has ramped up pressure on the country’s conservative government, which took office last October promising to stem the flow. But ironically, there have been more and more such landings this year from both North Africa and Turkey.

Around 17,600 people had reached Italy this year as of March 10, a sharp increase in comparison to 6,000 in the same period of 2022. Hundreds have also perished at sea trying to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe.

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