The Mediterranean boat people crisis may have touched its blackest moment yet with reports more than 700 people are feared to have drowned when their boat capsized off the coast of Libya.
A vast rescue operation, involving helicopters, navy, Coast Guard and merchant ships is currently ongoing in the hope that some of the migrants have been able to survive in the relatively warm Mediterranean waters some 70km offshore.
A complete picture of how the latest tragedy unfolded has not yet emerged. However, the earliest reports from survivors suggest that the 20 metre long migrant boat was overloaded, with more than 700 people on board.
Shortly after midnight on Saturday, the boat got into difficulties south of the Italian island of Lampedusa with some of the migrants managing to alert the Italian coast guard.
A Portuguese merchant ship, the King Jacob, which was the ship nearest to the stricken boat’s position, was alerted by the Coast Guard.
It is believed that when the King Jacob arrived at the migrant boat, many of the boat people moved to one side of the craft, causing it to overturn and sink with a heavy loss of life. Only 28 people were confirmed to have been rescued.