ROME, Aug 6: (Xinhua) – At least 25 migrants died when their boat capsized off the Libyan coast on Wednesday with hundreds of people onboard, and some 400 have been rescued so far, Italian reports said.
The accident happened when the migrants attempting the Mediterranean crossing to Italy moved all together towards the same side of the boat to ask for help when they saw a vessel approaching them, Federico Fossi from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) told Rai State television.
Rai said a major rescue operation was underway with several rafts and buoys thrown in the water as many migrants fleeing North African poverty and unrest-stricken nations are unable to swim.
"The coast guard has confirmed to us that 399 people have been rescued and 25 unfortunately have been recovered dead so far," Fossi went on saying.
According to first accounts of survivors, he said, the number of migrants aboard the boat could be between 500 and 600.
"Among them, around 100 were travelling inside the hold of this metal boat," he also added.
The Italian coast guard, which is coordinating rescue operations among various vessels in the area including one from Ireland and a ship operated by NGO Doctors Without Borders, said an alarm came in late morning via a satellite telephone call.
Italy's southern coasts in recent months have seen the countless arrivals of migrants. According to figures of the interior ministry, the country had received 82,464 migrants by sea by the second half of July, as much as 9 percent more compared to the same period last year.
he International Organization for Migration (IOM) said earlier this week that more than 2,000 have died so far in 2015 at sea while trying to reach European shores.
IOM added some 188,000 migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean so far this year by Triton, a border security operation carried out by Frontex, the European Union (EU)'s border security agency, and expected the figure to exceed 200,000 very soon.
European leaders have also launched a naval operation recently against human traffickers in the Mediterranean who make business out of migrants' despair.
Italian authorities, however, have repeatedly complained that the EU is not doing enough to help the country with the rampant migrant crisis.
Wednesday's migrant disaster was likely to be the biggest one since around 800 people drowned in a single accident when their boat sunk in April off the Libyan coast.