PICS: Refugee boat carrying hundreds capsizes off Libya coast
Images released by the Italian navy have captured the moment a heavily overcrowded boat overturned in a shipwreck off Libya which left at least five people dead.
The blue fishing vessel, its deck heaving with people, tipped over on Wednesday after the refugees and migrants rushed to one side on spotting a rescue ship.
Those on the boat, many of them men, some already wearing orange life jackets as a precaution, were captured in rare photographs as they clung to the boat’s rails or each other, or dropped into the sea.
Some are seen hanging on to the starboard edge by their fingertips as the trawler rolls, while others try to balance on the rim.
Pictures taken seconds later show the waters around the boat filled with people trying to get away from the vessel which, now overturned, begins to sink, with four people still perched on its upturned hull.
The navy said its Bettica patrol boat had spotted “a boat in precarious conditions off the coast of Libya with numerous migrants aboard” but the trawler overturned shortly afterwards “due to overcrowding”
The Bettica threw life-rafts and jackets to those in the water, while another navy ship in the area sent a helicopter and rescue boats.
Survivors can be seen in the photographs wearing life-rings, some swimming towards the Bettica as the helicopter whirrs overhead.
The navy said 562 people had been pulled to safety.
The operation wound up late on Wednesday without finding any further survivors or victims.
The Bettica went on to save another 108 refugees and migrants from their dilapidated vessel in a second rescue operation on Wednesday.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, more than 1 370 people have lost their lives so far this year trying to make the crossing to Europe.
The latest arrivals bring the number of people rescued and transferred to Italy since the start of the year to nearly 40 000 following the rescue of more than 6 000 since Monday, according to figures collated by the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and the coastguard.
The overwhelming majority of those arriving in Italy so far this year have been from sub-Saharan Africa.
Italian media reports warned the number of minors arriving was on the rise.
A nine-month-old baby girl whose mother died during a crossing this week was being looked after by cultural mediators in the reception centre on Lampedusa island, La Repubblica said.
The UNHCR, aid organisations and the Italian government say there is no sign yet of Middle Eastern refugees switching to the Libyan route to Europe following moves to restrict access from Turkey via the Greek islands.