It appeared to be the latest tragedy on the dangerous central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Europe.
Flavio Di Giacomo of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) told Italian state TV that “unfortunately about 120” migrants were reported by survivors to have been on the overloaded smugglers’ dinghy when it was launched from Libyan shores on Thursday evening.
“After a few hours, it began sinking and people began drowning,” Di Giacomo said.
Among the missing are 10 women and two children, including a two-month-old baby, he said. Survivors indicated their fellow migrants came from Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Gambia and Sudan, Di Giacomo said.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who has urged that the government show more compassion for migrants, expressed his “deep sorrow for the tragedy that has taken place in the Mediterranean.”
Premier Giuseppe Conte told reporters he was “shocked” at the reports of the sinking and vowed that Italy would continue to combat human traffickers.
Italy’s populist government has banned private rescue boats from bringing migrants to Italian shores. Together with Malta, Italy has also launched probes of the rescue groups themselves, claiming their operations might facilitate trafficking.
The three survivors of the sinking were plucked to safety by an Italian navy helicopter on Friday afternoon, the navy said.