ROME • Up to 50 migrants went missing after a large rubber dinghy sank in the Mediterranean Sea, Italian rescuers said yesterday, while more than 1,500 were picked up from seven other vessels in the past 24 hours.
The Mediterranean has become the world's most deadly border zone for migrants. Over 2,000 migrants and refugees have died so far this year in attempts to reach Europe by boat, compared with 3,279 deaths during the whole of last year, the International Organisation for Migration said last week.
An Italian navy helicopter spotted a rubber boat on Tuesday that appeared to be deflating, the navy said, and dropped life rafts to the migrants on board. The boat then sank, it said.
The Italian naval ship Mimbelli managed to pull 52 migrants to safety. Survivors said there had been about 100 on board, leaving up to about 50 unaccounted for, a rescue operations source said.
A helicopter later airlifted to safety two migrants seen hanging onto a floating barrel near where the dinghy had sunk, the navy said. The survivors were being taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
People-smugglers, mostly based in Libya and charging thousands of dollars for passage, have sent more than 100,000 migrants by sea to Italy so far this year.