Ten people remain missing after a boat carrying migrants and refugees capsized five miles off the coast.
At least seven people, including a pregnant woman, have drowned after a boat carrying migrants and refugees capsized five miles (eight kilometers) from the Italian island of Lampedusa, officials said.
About ten more people were missing after the incident early Wednesday, said Luigi Patronaggio, chief prosecutor of a team leading investigations into the deaths.
The refugees are believed to have begun their trip to Tunisia, said Patronaggio, who works with magistrates in the Sicilian city of Agrigento.
Lampedusa Mayor Toto Martello said: “This latest tragedy in the Mediterranean is heartbreaking. I wonder what needs to happen to make Italy and Europe understand that we cannot continue like this.”
Two Coast Guard vessels had responded to a distress call from the ship, the Italian Coast Guard said in a statement.
As rescuers approached, the passengers suddenly “changed” their positions, which probably caused the boat to turn, according to the statement.
Coast Guard units rescued about 46 people from the eight-meter-long boat after it capsized and returned them to Lampedusa, officials said.
More than 250 more people landed on the small island overnight with four boats, local media reported.
Arrivals in Italy had fallen in recent years, but the numbers rose again in 2021.
Nearly 20,000 migrants and refugees have arrived since the beginning of the year, many fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.
This compares to just over 6,700 in the same period last year, according to Interior Ministry figures.
Lampedusa, which is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, is one of the main destinations for Libyan-based human traffickers.