Over 200 Missing After Migrant Boat Capsizes Off Tunisia

June 2, 2011 (RTTNews) – At least 270 migrants were reported missing after their over-crowded boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Tunisia, the official Tunisian news agency TAP said Thursday.

The migrants, mainly African, were reportedly on their way to the Italian island of Lampedusa from Libya when their vessel ran aground and capsized some 19 nautical miles off Tunisia’s Kerkennah islands.

According to the TAP report, Tunisia’s coast guard and army have managed to rescue about 570 people from the ill-fated boat. The report, however, said that more than 270 of the boat’s occupants went missing after they attempted to jump on to the rescue boats from the overcrowded vessel.

At least two people have been confirmed dead thus far, while seven of the injured were taken to a hospital in southern Tunisia. Search and rescue operations are progressing off the Kerkennah islands for the missing.

Survivors say there were more than 800 people on board the vessel when the accident occurred. Tunisian authorities have already transferred about 200 survivors to the Shusha camp near the Libya-Tunisia border. The remaining are expected to be sent to the same camp later on Thursday.

Such rescue operations and accidents are common in the area, as thousands of illegal African migrants attempt to reach Europe for a better life by crossing the Mediterranean Sea in flimsy boats and dinghies every year.

The coveted destination for most African migrants was the Spanish mainland or Spain’s Canary Islands off the coast of West Africa until recently, but most of them are now attempting to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The reduction in flow of African migrants to Spain is mostly due to increased cooperation with Morocco and other countries in Africa. The Spanish interior ministry says that some 3, 630 migrants arrived on the country’s shores in 2010, a reduction of almost 50% when compared to the previous year.

Currently, Italy is struggling to cope with the recent surge in illegal North African migrants arriving on its shores. Italy says that more than 40,000 illegal migrants fleeing violent conflicts in north Africa have landed in the country’s southern islands since mid-January.