ROME • Dramatic images released by the Italian navy have captured the moment a heavily overcrowded boat overturned in a shipwreck off Libya that left at least five people dead.
The blue fishing vessel, its deck heaving with migrants, tipped over after they rushed to one side on spotting a rescue ship - an all-too-frequent mistake that has led to many disasters in the Mediterranean.
The migrants, many of them men and some already wearing orange life jackets as a precaution, were captured in the rare photographs released on Wednesday as they clung to the boat's rails or one another, or dropped like stones 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 churning waters around the boat peppered with people trying to get away from the vessel that, 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 after "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 photos 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.
The migrants had sounded the alarm by calling for help using a satellite phone some 18 nautical miles off Libya.
And in the second deadly incident in two days, another migrant boat capsized in the Mediterranean yesterday, an Italian Coast Guard spokesman said. Some 80 people are feared to have drowned while 24 were rescued by coast guard vessels.
Wednesday's incident was not the first time a boat making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean has overturned because of sudden movement on board when help is in sight. Last August, a Palestinian survivor of just such a shipwreck described the moment the boat rolled as "like being flung from a catapult". "I could only see heads, all around, amid the waves, everyone pushing down on everyone else to try and stay afloat," the survivor said.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, over 1,370 migrants have died so far this year in attempting the perilous 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 United Nations refugee agency UNHCR and the coast guard.
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.