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Up to 700 people dead after fishing boat packed with migrants capsizes off Libyan coast

A number of Italian coast guard and naval vessels were being sent to the area
A number of Italian coast guard and naval vessels were being sent to the area

It is feared that as many as 700 people may have died after a fishing boat packed with migrants trying to reach Europe capsized off the Libyan coast.

United Nations  spokeswoman Carlotta Sami told the Skytg24 news channel that only 28 people had survived.

The survivors indicated there had been more than 700 on board, she said.

The incident happened in an area just off Libyan waters, south of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.

The emergency was declared at around midnight.

The boat is believed to have capsized when people moved to one side of the vessel after a merchant ship approached it.

A number of Italian coast guard and naval vessels were being sent to the area.

If confirmed, the disaster would be one of the worst seen during the decades-long migrant crisis in the southern Mediterranean and would bring the total number of dead since the beginning of the year to more than 1,500.

Yesterday, Pope Francis urged the international community to act over the numbers of migrants attempting to reach Italy in dangerous sea crossings from north Africa.

Migrants seeking to reach Europe with the help of people smugglers are generally fleeing conflict or persecution.

The migrants are coming from countries such as Eritrea, Afghanistan and Syria, or poverty and hunger in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.