Up to 30 migrants are feared dead after a boat capsized in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast while some 77 were rescued by EU naval units from the sea.
Ships from an EU task force and Italy’s coast guard raced to the scene 35 nautical miles (65km) off the coast as survivors clung to the hull or swam.
The alert had been raised by a Luxembourg reconnaissance plane which saw the capsized boat.
The Italian navy rescued 562 migrants from a capsized boat on Wednesday.
Some 6,000 migrants trying to reach Europe have been rescued from flimsy craft in the Mediterranean this week alone.
Aid agencies say the crossing between Libya and Italy is the main route for migrants since an EU deal with Turkey curbed the number sailing across the Aegean to Greece.
in 2016, up to 17 May
1,357 died or missing in Mediterranean
976 died or missing en route to Italy
853,650 arrivals in 2015
“We estimate the dead to be between 20 and 30 people,” Captain Antonello de Renzis Sonnino, spokesman for the EU’s Sophia military operation to combat people smugglers in the region, told AFP news agency, as the rescue continued.
The Spanish frigate Reina Sofia, backed by the Italian coastguard, threw life floats and jackets to those in the water.
A second, Spanish plane was also involved in the rescue operation, Italy’s Ansa news agency reports (in Italian).
In Tuesday’s incident, five migrants were found dead in the water.
Horrific scenes of people clinging desperately to the upturned boat or dropping into the sea were caught on camera.
The Italian ship which led the rescue, the Bettica, was taking the survivors to Sicily on Thursday.
A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.