Up to 400 migrants were feared to have drowned today after trying to cross the Mediterranean by boat in a bid to reach Europe.
Most of the victims were thought to have been fleeing Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea and had hoped to land in Italy.
The country’s president, Sergio Mattarella, confirmed this morning there had been an incident in which “it seems several hundred people have died”.
It came exactly a year after 800 died in a similar tragedy and raised concerns that more migrants would try the risky crossing with the spring bringing calmer seas.
The latest incident came to light when social media posts from some of the migrants’ families were shared widely online.
Some suggested a single boat had capsized, while other reports suggested four vessels were involved.
Italy’s foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni told reporters he was waiting for more details.
But he added: “What is sure is that we are again with a tragedy in the Mediterranean, exactly one year after the tragedy we had… in Libyan waters.
“This is another strong reason for Europe to commit itself not to build walls.”
Photographs of a handwritten list of victims’ names was being distributed on websites by Somali-speaking users.
The Somali ambassador to Egypt, from where the migrants were believed to have departed, confirmed the reports.
Somali media outlets said rescue workers had so far only managed to save 29 passengers from the water. Some had reportedly been taken to one of the Greek islands.
In a separate incident today, Italy’s coastguard recovered six bodies and rescued 108 migrants from a sinking dinghy.
Almost 6,000 migrants and refugees sailed from Libya to Italy last week in what appears to be the start of a major wave, the International Organisation for Migration said.