PHOTO: This is the horrific moment at least five migrants have drowned off the Libyan coast today after the heavily overcrowded boat they were on overturned. The Italian navy said at least 550 people had been pulled to safety but added that the rescue operation was still underway and that the death toll could rise. Shocking pictures show the vessel starting to lean to one side (left) before refugees start diving into the water as it capsizes (top right). Frantic passengers swam for their lives as the boat started to overturn and sink beneath the surface (bottom right). More than 6,000 migrants have been rescued from the Mediterranean in just over 48 hours as Italian officials revealed people smugglers now account for half of GDP along Libya’s coast.
A large wooden fishing boat crowded with hundreds of migrants ‘flipped over’ off the coat of Libya, the Italian navy said on Wednesday – leaving at least five dead.
Photographs show the blue fishing boat rocking violently before capsizing, sending migrants tumbling into the sea.
Some then climbed onto the hull of the overturned vessel, while others swam for life boats or toward the navy ship – which saved 550 people.
TOPSHOT – This handout picture released on May 25, 2016 by the Italian Navy (Marina Militare) shows the shipwreck of an overcrowded boat of migrants off the Libyan coast today. Migrants were hurled into the water (Picture AP/Reuters)
Navy swimmers are also shown pulling migrants in lifebelts toward the Bettica, according to the navy pictures.
Women wearing head scarves and children were among those rescued, but no details of the migrants’ nationalities have been given.
The Italian navy patrol boat Bettica saw that the vessel was in difficulty and approached it to hand out life jackets, but before it could begin a rescue the boat flipped over due to the sudden movement of the passengers, a statement said.
Several rubber motor boats are being used in the rescue operations, and the navy frigate Bergamini has deployed a helicopter.
Boat arrivals rose sharply this week amid warm weather and calm seas.
Italy’s coastguard said 5,600 migrants were rescued on Monday and Tuesday, and officials fear numbers will increase as conditions continue to improve.
In the past two years, more than 320,000 boat migrants have arrived on Italian shores and an estimated 7,000 died in the Mediterranean as they sought to reach Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration.