Italy saves more than 500 asylum-seekers after ship flips due to overcrowding

A large ship overturned Wednesday off Libya’s coast with more than 500 migrants aboard, right as the Italian navy was approaching for rescue. Crews saved some 562 people but found five dead. The blue fishing vessel, its deck heaving with people, tipped over after the migrants rushed to one side on spotting a rescue ship — an all too frequent mistake which has led to many disasters in the Mediterranean.

I could only see heads, all around, amid the waves, everyone pushing down on everyone else to try and stay afloat.

A Palestinian survivor of a similar shipwreck who was rescued in August last year

Rescue operations off Libya’s coast have increased in recent weeks amid calm seas and warm weather — conditions that encourage Libyan-based smugglers to crowd hundreds of would-be refugees onto unseaworthy boats for the trip 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, according to figures collated by the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and the coastguard. The overwhelming majority of those arriving in Italy so far this year have been from sub-Saharan Africa. 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.