Boat carrying 250 people capsizes off African coast

Saturday, June 21, 2003

TUNIS, Tunisia -- A boat carrying about 250 people, mainly Africans headed for Italy, sank Friday off the Tunisian coast, killing at least 12 people, the official Tunisian news agency said.

The TAP agency said 41 people were pulled from the water after the boat capsized at dawn, and that 12 bodies were found. Rescuers were still searching for the missing.

The boat's occupants were from various African nations and were attempting to reach Italy, TAP said. Thousands of Africans fleeing poverty risk their lives every year to cross to Europe, often at night in makeshift boats. Some drown in the attempt.

Relatively few of those who try to slip into Italy hope to live there.

Most travel farther north, to countries such as Germany with proportionally bigger immigrant populations.

It was unclear what type of boat sank Friday. The captain of a fishing boat alerted authorities by radio about the craft, which sank some 70 miles southeast of the Tunisian city of Sfax.

Tunisian investigators said it appeared the boat had departed from a neighboring country. Many such boats leave from Libya.

The Tunisian national guard and navy were handling the rescue, helped by four non-military boats and two tow boats from nearby offshore oil rigs.

The TAP report said authorities had found two other boats likely carrying illegal immigrants Wednesday and Thursday. The first, carrying 28 people, was discovered near Zarzis, a port near the Libyan border. Authorities discovered the second, a rubber boat carrying 24 people, near the Tunisian island of Djerba.

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