The Italian Coast Guard recovered the bodies of 13 people, all women, who died after a crowded migrant boat capsized in heavy weather off the coast of Lampedusa, the local authorities said on Monday.
Coast guard officials said rescue vessels had picked up 22 survivors near Lampedusa, south of Sicily, but they feared that many other people might have died, in the latest in a long line of sea disasters to hit migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe.
One of the survivors said she had lost her sister and 8-month-old niece in the tragedy.
The ship, which had set off from Tunisia, was carrying around 50 people, almost all from Tunisia and West Africa, the United Nations migration agency said.
Coast guard members received an alert late on Sunday that a boat was in difficulty. Two rescue vessels found the ship, which was listing, just after midnight about six nautical miles from Lampedusa.
“The naval units approached the small boat, but the adverse weather conditions and the sudden movement of migrants caused the vessel to overturn,” the coast guard said in a statement.
Coffins were lined up on the quay of the small port of Lampedusa as a coast guard ship entered the harbor on Monday, bringing the bodies to shore.
Italian magistrates have opened an investigation into the disaster, with a magistrate from Sicily flying to Lampedusa on Monday to lead the inquiry.
Charlie Yaxley, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, said that more than 1,000 people had died in the Mediterranean this year, most trying to cross from lawless Libya to Europe.
“This highlights once again that urgent action is needed to address the situation in the Mediterranean,” he said.
Italy’s Interior Ministry says that around 8,000 migrants have reached the country by boat this year, down 63 percent on the same period last year and 93 percent on 2017 levels.
Italy has introduced tough laws over the past year to dissuade charity rescue ships from operating in the Mediterranean in an effort to reduce the number of possible asylum seekers it receives. The government has also urged Tunisia and Libya to do more to prevent migrant boats from setting off.
Over the past 18 months, Tunisia has supplied the largest number of migrants entering Italy, a change from previous years when the new arrivals came mainly from sub-Saharan Africa.
Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 7, the Interior Ministry said, 2,232 Tunisians reached Italy by boat. The next largest group by nationality were Pakistanis, with 997 making the crossing, followed by migrants from the Ivory Coast, who totaled 867.