Hundreds of Libyan migrants trying to flee their war-torn country were reported missing at sea as the boat they were riding capsized off the Island of Lampedusa in southern Italy Wednesday.
Italian coast guards rescued at least 48 migrants and initial death toll of 20 passengers was reported while more than a hundred were reported missing.
"The Italian coast guard responded to a distress call from the boat, which was in Maltese waters some 70km (40 miles) from Lampedusa, at about 0400 local time (0200 GMT) on Wednesday." BBC News reports
"Three coast guard vessels were dispatched along with at least one helicopter, which spotted the bodies in the water. A Maltese plane was reportedly also involved in the operation," the report added.
According to Pietro Carosia of the Italian coast guard unit, rescuers are having difficulty in the rescue operations due to strong winds and rough waters at the scene of the sea disaster.
"Carosia said the boat had sailed from Libya and likely been at sea for around two days. He said about 200 people were believed to be on board, although the IOM and survivors put the number of passengers at 300", AP/Yahoo News reports.
Lampedusa Island has become a favorite destination for migrants fleeing north African countries in the wake of a series of civilian uprising triggered by violent confrontation between the anti-government groups and government security forces which started Tunisia.
Last week, Italian Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi rushed to Lampedusa after learning that migrants from North Africa have "invaded" the island, with thousands more arriving by boats from war-torn Libya.
The Italian Prime Minister learned that illegal immigrants now outnumber the island's population. Lampedusa has 5,000 residents but there are now 6,000 illegal immigrants from neighboring North African countries living on the small island.
Also last week migrants coming from war-torn Libya started arriving in the island.