A Maltese aircraft was sent up and reported that the boat had capsized and that “numerous” people were in the water. The aircraft dropped a life raft, and a patrol boat soon arrived at the scene, according to a statement from the Maltese armed forces.
Late Friday, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat reported that 27 bodies had been recovered, three of them children.
He said 150 survivors were rescued aboard a Maltese ship. An Italian patrol boat had another 56 survivors, while a fishing boat had 15, said Cmdr. Marco Maccaroni of the Italian navy. Between the Italian and Maltese ships, the total of survivors came to 221, though it wasn’t clear if the injured who were flown by helicopter to Lampedusa were included in that figure.
The incident occurred as recovery operations continued Friday off Lampedusa for victims of the Oct. 3 shipwreck. The death toll stood Friday at 339, including a newborn recovered with its umbilical cord still attached, Di Milla said.
The recent deaths prompted renewed calls for the European Union to do more to better patrol the southern Mediterranean and prevent such tragedies — and for countries like Libya to crack down on smuggling operations.
“We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a cemetery,” Muscat told a news conference in Valletta, the Maltese capital.
Lampedusa is the destination of choice for smugglers who usually charge more than 1,000 euro ($1,355) a head and cram the migrants onto boats that routinely run into trouble and require rescue. Fortress Europe, an Italian observatory that tracks migrant deaths reported by the media, says about 6,450 people died in the Canal of Sicily between 1994 and 2012.
Once in Italy, the migrants are screened for asylum and often sent back home if they don’t qualify. During the 1990s and early 2000s, many of the arrivals were considered “economic migrants.” But many of the latest arrivals are fleeing persecution and conflict in places such as Syria and Eritrea, and qualify for refugee status, U.N. officials say.