By Jethro Mullen, Barbie Nadeau and Tina Burnside
ROME (CNN) — Rescuers are racing to try to save hundreds of people believed to have been thrown into the Mediterranean Sea when the boat carrying them from Libya capsized overnight, authorities said Sunday.
But the hopes of finding many survivors from the latest migrant boat disaster in Mediterranean waters appear to be dimming.
The boat is estimated to have been carrying roughly 700 people when it ran into trouble in the dark of night.
Rescuers from Italy and Malta have seen scores of bodies in Libyan waters, said Maltese military spokesman David Cioffi. Children were reported to be among the dead.
Hours in cold water
The exact numbers of people rescued, dead and missing is shifting constantly.
A total of 28 survivors and 24 bodies have so far been recovered in an area about 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of Libya, according to the Italian Coast Guard, which is leading the rescue operation.
But Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, told CNN that 49 survivors were being taken to Sicily.
Survivors reportedly said that 700 to 800 people had been on board the boat. Di Giacomo put the number at 650 to 700.
The vessel was large and had multiple levels, said Italian Coast Guard spokeswoman Francesca Caruso.
A distress call went out late Saturday indicating the ship was in trouble, Italian authorities said. The passengers had been in the chilly water for hours before rescuers could get to them.
Adding to the bleak situation, a storm brewing in the area threatens to hinder the rescue operations.
There has been a recent upsurge in migrant boats crossing the Mediterranean into Italy and an increase in rescues performed by the Italian Coast Guard to aid migrant boats.
The number of people dying en route also appears to have soared.
Waves of migrants attempt to make the crossing from North Africa into Southern Europe every week in search of a better prospects.
But their hopes are exploited by human traffickers who put them to sea in flimsy, overcrowded vessels.
The migrants have often endured grueling journeys over land just to get to the port of departure and are already in poor health.
‘The people are going to continue to arrive’
The sea journey can easily go wrong.
More than 900 migrants are believed to have died while crossing the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year, far more than during the same period in 2014, the International Organization for Migration said Friday.
And those are just the deaths that Western officials hear about.
European countries, meanwhile, are squabbling over who should do what to deal with the waves of migrants.
Roberta Metsola, a Maltese member of the European Parliament, told CNN on Sunday that countries from Northern Europe need to share the responsibility with their southern neighbors.
“The people are going to continue to arrive,” she said. “The desperation subsists — there are almost a million people waiting to board boats and come to Europe to seek a better life. And that fact has to be recognized.”
Journalist Barbie Nadeau reported from Rome, CNN’s Tina Burnside reported from Atlanta, and CNN’s Jethro Mullen wrote from Hong Kong.