At least 34 migrants, mostly toddlers, drown off Libya

At least 34 migrants, most of them toddlers, drowned, after their overloaded vessel capsized in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya, rescuers said

The migrants were on a wooden boat carrying between 500 and 700 people (File photo)
The migrants were on a wooden boat carrying between 500 and 700 people (File photo)

At least 34 migrants, most of them toddlers, drowned on Wednesday, after their overloaded vessel capsized in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya, rescuers said.

The migrants were on a wooden boat carrying between 500 and 700 people and were just 20 nautical miles off the Libyan coast when the accident happened. One of a group of boats listed suddenly, sending about 200 people tumbling into the Mediterranean, Italian Coast Guard commander Cosimo Nicastro told Reuters news agency.

"At least 20 dead bodies were spotted in the water," he said.

Co-founder of humanitarian Malta-based rescue group MOAS, Chris Catrambone, said on Twitter that the group had already recovered 34 bodies and that "most are toddlers."

The coast guard called in more ships to help with the rescue, saying about 1,700 people were packed into about 15 vessels.

More than 1,300 people have died this year on the world's most dangerous crossing for migrants fleeing poverty and war across Africa and the Middle East.

In the past week, more than 7,000 migrants have been plucked from unsafe boats in international waters off the western coast of Libya, where people smugglers operate with impunity.

Despite efforts by Italy and the European Union to bolster the Tripoli-based coast guard and funnel training and equipment to fight trafficking to the UN-backed government, record numbers of migrants are coming this year.

More than 50,000 migrants have been rescued at sea and brought to Italy so far, a 46 percent increase on the same period of last year, the interior ministry said this week.

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