CBSN

Another migrant tragedy unfolding in Mediterranean Sea

ROME -- Yet another migrant tragedy is unfolding in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya, where dozens are feared dead after a second migrant vessel capsized in as many days.

"We can estimate that at least 20 or 30 have died, but we don't know the final numbers," Captain Antonello de Renzis Sonnino of the European Union's anti-smuggling Operation Sophia said Thursday.

Sonnino said that the operation was still ongoing, so the final number of victims is still unknown.

An Italian coast guard spokesman said 91 migrants had been rescued so far.

On Wednesday, a boat carrying about 600 people also capsized, and five people lost their lives. The boat was reportedly leaking, so when an Italian navy ship approached the wooden vessels, many of the migrants rushed to one side, hoping to be the first to be rescued. This caused the ship to capsize, spilling the migrants into the sea. The dramatic sequence was captured by the Italian navy in photographs.

The Italian navy captain described the terrible scene to BBC Radio: "I tried to keep the people calm, saying: 'Please sit down, do not stand, do not walk because the boat isn't stable.' But fear is fear, so the people were not listening ... At a certain point it capsized. All I did was take my ship as close as possible to the wreck and order my crew to throw into the water everything that could float, to give people something to hold on to."

Migrant crossings have accelerated in the last few days due to good weather and calm waters. Authorities expect the number to increase as the weather continues to improve. On Thursday alone, the Italian coast guard coordinated 20 rescue operations and saved over 2,600 migrants, working in tandem with EU and non-governmental organization vessels.

The international organization estimates that over 8,000 migrants have drowned at sea in the last two-and-a-half years.