A boat carrying illegal migrants from North Africa capsized near the Italian island of Lampedusa, rendering about 130 people missing, according to Italy’s coast guard officials.
Rescuers were able to save about 50 passengers in waters about 40 miles south of Lampedusa. It is believed that about 15 people were killed in the sinking.
The Lampedusa port authority said this particular boat likely originated in Libya, rather than Tunisia, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
Italian rescue vessels and helicopter in tandem with their Maltese counterparts are combing the area for survivors.
High winds and rough seas are frustrating further rescue efforts.
Lampedusa, a tiny island between Tunisia and Sicily, has been overwhelmed by an estimated 20-thousand migrants fleeing the wars and turmoil in North Africa. Most of the arrivals are young men of Tunisian descent and their presence on the island has created an immigration crisis for the Italian government.
Unable to maintain the sudden influx of people, Lampedusa has beseeched the Rome government and European Union for assistance. Many of the asylum-seekers have been relocated to parts of the Italian mainland, creating stresses their between regional authorities.
On Tuesday, Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni and the Tunisian government signed a pact to halt the movement of further migrants to Italy under a deal that promises financial aid, increased police cooperation.
For the moment, Italy said it will provide six-month residency papers to the 20,000 migrants already in Italy, however new arrivals will be deported.