Valletta - More than 140 survivors, plucked from the sea
after their overloaded boat sank in the latest deadly migrant tragedy to hit
the Mediterranean, arrived in Malta on Saturday.
The sinking killed more than 30, most of them women and
children, when the boat packed with people desperate to reach European shores
went down off Malta near the Italian island of Lampedusa, according to
It came just over a week after a similar tragedy killed
more than 300 Africans in the deadliest refugee disaster to date in the region,
prompting the European Union (EU) to call for sea patrols to cope with the
flood of migrants knocking on its doors.
In Friday's sinking, a boat carrying some 230 refugees
capsized in rough seas around 100km south of Lampedusa and 110km from Malta.
Thirty-three people, including infants and children, are
known to have died as a result, according to a Maltese military source. About
143 people have so far been rescued, an AFP correspondent said.
The Maltese navy dispatched rescue ships and helicopters
and diverted commercial vessels to the area, while Italy sent two naval vessels
and helicopters carrying inflatable life rafts.
EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstroem said
she was following the rescue operations "with sadness and anxiety"
and praised Italy and Malta for their swift response.
"These new horrible events are happening while we
still have the shocking images of the tragedy in Lampedusa in our minds,"
she said, adding that the latest disaster highlighted the need for expanded
search and rescue operations "to better detect and assist boats in
The Commission has been urging EU states to pledge
planes, ships and funds for EU border guard service Frontex, whose budget has
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta called the latest
tragedy "a new and dramatic confirmation of the state of emergency".
"Italy and Malta cannot be left all alone, this is a
European problem," said his Maltese counterpart, Joseph Muscat, who spoke
with Letta by phone.
The migrants in Friday's disaster alerted the authorities
using a satellite phone when their boat got into difficulty in Maltese waters.
The boat, bound for Lampedusa, capsized after those
aboard attempted to catch the attention of a military aircraft flying overhead
by gathering at one end of the vessel, the Maltese navy said.
The sinking came as Italian divers found another body
from last week's refugee shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa, raising the
death toll in the tragedy to 312.
Only 155 survivors were rescued out of an estimated 500
people, most of them Eritreans and Somalis, on the boat which departed from
The disaster has shown up the EU's asylum policy, which
has been criticised for being overly restrictive and forcing refugees to resort
to desperate measures to reach Europe.
Italy has appealed to EU states for help in coping with
the thousands that are washing up on its shores every month, and wants
migration to be put on the agenda of summit talks in Brussels at the end of the
Immigration charities estimate that between 17 000 and 20
000 migrants have died at sea trying to reach Europe over the past 20 years,
often crossing on rickety fishing boats or rubber dinghies.